Today’s leaders must be transformational leaders who lead out of a depth of character that has been intentionally nurtured and a baseline of trust that has been carefully built. It is from within a context of character and trustworthiness that a leader is given authority.
A leader cannot lead without authority. At different times in history leaders could lead simply out of the vestment of their role. They were the leader, and could base their authority upon that position. While some leaders still act as if that is the case today, it just isn’t so. Today’s leaders no matter what the context, must earn the right to lead, to be heard, and to set direction. Therefore lets consider some of the characteristics of a trust worthy leader?
Integrity – The root of the word is similar to integer, or integral – meaning whole, or something complete. A trustworthy leader is someone who is whole – who demonstrates equilibrium between their words and their actions, their persona and their character. It is not possible to trust someone who is false. A person who speaks lies or half-truths on a regular basis, or who defines reality differently depending on their context or who they are talking to is not a person of integrity. Integrity is honesty, but it is far more than that. A person of integrity refuses to live a divided life. When someone lacks integrity they cannot be trusted. All other characteristics of a trustworthy leader flow out of this quality. It is important to note that integrity is not synonymous with perfection. Perfection is something without flaw, while integrity is something that is whole, that is complete – without duplicity or falseness – with strength on both the inside and the outside.
As a leader ask yourself: Would those who follow me describe me as a whole person? Am I an individual who lives an integrated life? Are there aspects of my life that cause me to hide behind my persona rather than honestly reflect who I am? What am I doing about that?
Courage – Courage is the ability to stand strong, in the midst of, or despite our fears. This means that courage looks different for every one of us. Courage builds trust, because courageous leaders protect their followers and speak honestly to them and others. Within Christian contexts there is a disease called “niceness” that can prevent a leader from acting with courage. Ministry leaders also struggle with the desire to people-please, which can result in saying things we think people want to hear rather than what needs to be said. A courageous leader is willing to stand up for his/her team, and is willing to stand for convictions and values too. A courageous Christian leader speaks and acts with both grace and truth. Such action engenders trust because a follower has a sense that they are protected by the leader, and furthermore knows that the leader is willing to speak and act truthfully within the relationship.
As a leader ask yourself: What is it that I fear? Do my fears prevent me from establishing trust with those I lead? Would those who follow me describe me as a courageous person? Are there unresolved fears in my life that prevent or inhibit courageous living?
Wisdom – Godly wisdom is the result of a life submitted to God and a healthy perspective and reflection upon the experience of godly living. Sometimes wisdom is equated with age. While wisdom almost always takes time, it is not a given that an aged person is also a wise person. Experience is not enough. Experience that is reflected upon in the light of the truth of Christ with a healthy perspective leads to godly wisdom. God’s word primarily links wisdom with righteousness, both necessary components of a trustworthy leader. Poor decisions or a lack of wisdom destroy trust just as often as fear or duplicity. Jesus taught often about trustworthy stewards or managers. They are individuals who act with wisdom and prudence. Wisdom becomes increasingly important as one’s influence and position increases, since the decisions of an influencer or leader impact greater numbers of people. Wisdom allows a leader to anticipate how particular actions or events will affect individuals and groups and how they may respond. Wise decisions engender trust because followers, peers and those in authority know that right actions, words and timing will be aligned. Dr. Henry Cloud has created an easy to remember equation: Grace+Truth over Time = Growth. Might I suggest that Grace+Truth+Reflective Experience(Time) = Wisdom.
As a leader ask yourself: What are the steps necessary for me to grow in wisdom? Do my choices and decisions ever prevent me from establishing trust with those I lead? What those who follow me describe me as a wise decision maker and leader? Does my immaturity prevent or inhibit my ability to earn the trust of those I serve?
Selflessness – What is the motivation behind my leadership? Am I motivated by position, influence, perks and ambition, or am I motivated to serve, nurture, empower and protect? Jesus’ famous “vision statement” speaks directly into this value, “the son of man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Greatness in Christ’s kingdom is equated with servanthood. Selfishness breeds mistrust because those around a selfish leader tend to feel used, and see their contributions as simply enriching the individual and his/her ambitions and plans. Selflessness engenders trust because those around a selfless leader feel empowered and supported. They can see that the leader cares about their growth, their success and their well-being. A selfish leader can only be trusted to do what is best for themselves, while a selfless leader builds a culture of safety. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
As a leader ask yourself: Am I motivated by selfish ambition or by a desire to serve and empower those I lead? Do I covet personal gain or the realization of Christ’s kingdom? How does my desires for selfish gain destroy trust in those I serve?
Consistency – Inconsistency causes uncertainty, fear and chaos. Consistency belies self-control, discipline and dependability. A dependable leader is a trustworthy leader. Scripture talks about faithfulness. We are reminded that God is faithful, and consistent – and can therefore be trusted. The gods of the ancients, and for many religions today are described as fickle and moody – keeping their followers off balance, unsure and fearful. Our God is faithful, which results in equilibrium and constancy. Inconsistent parents break down the confidence and security of their children. Inconsistent leaders remove the confidence and security of their followers. Confidence, dependability, and trustworthiness go hand in hand.
As a leader ask yourself: Am I consistent in my actions, decisions and moods? How does my inconsistency breed insecurity or uncertainty in those I lead? What discipline must I add to my life to become more self-disciplined in my behaviors, reactions and moods? What would be the impact of a more consistent life on those who experience me on a regular basis?
Jesus exemplified the life of a trustworthy leader. His life was one of integrity, courage, wisdom, selflessness and consistency. While he was unwavering in his vision, and sometimes stern in his response, those who were led by him could trust them – with their thoughts, with their futures, and with their lives. Are you the kind of leader who can say to those who follow, “You can Trust me”