5 Ways to Lead When People Don’t Trust Leaders

In Articles, Church Leadership, Leadership, Work Leadership by Kirk GilesLeave a Comment

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One of the many outcomes of the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements has been the rise of people who no longer trust leaders.  Of course, this is nothing new.  These attitudes have been seen for as long as I can remember.

Politicians are a lightning rod for distrust.  I don’t think much more needs to be said about that.

In 2016, the Pew Research Center released a report that said 46% of Americans do not trust religious leaders to act in the public’s interest.

If you have coached a kids sports team, then you are very familiar with the lack of trust parents can have in you.

It seems like there is a consistent message that leaders cannot be trusted.  Let’s be honest, that reputation has been earned.

When you read the stories of sexual assault from those in positions of power you can see how people will have their guard up.

Millions of people have grown up in father absent homes.  Despite mom’s best efforts, these children have learned from the beginning of their life that authority will let you down.

Leadership is a trust – not a right.  Leaders are given the responsibility to serve and bring life to others.  Christian leaders are entrusted with the responsibility of representing the heart and mission of Jesus Christ.  In today’s environment, how do we lead when people don’t trust leaders?

1.  Leadership Is About Character First

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”  – Abraham Lincoln

As leaders, we need to be sharpening our character.  Power without good character is a recipe for disaster.

One of the ways I am learning to sharpen my character is to measure my motives and actions against the only perfect leader I know – Jesus Christ.  I find that Jesus regularly offends me – in a good way.  He reveals parts of my character that I am not always proud of.  He also gives me hope that He can sharpen me to be better.

I find it is important to surround yourself with others who are also seeking to have Jesus shape their leadership.  I don’t mean a group of people who just pat each other on the back, but people who are genuinely open to becoming more like Jesus.

2.  Lead With a Limp

“We live in a culture where the acknowledgment of wrong or the ownership of risk and failure is paramount to forfeiting the game.”  – Dan Allender

Abusers of power tend to work very hard to stay in power.  They seek to protect their reputation, and to portray a certain image.  Contrast that to men like the Apostle Paul who consistently shared his personal testimony and his own need for God’s grace.  When we are consistently and honestly vulnerable, we will  build trust.  Yes, there are layers to how vulnerable we should be depending on the audience, but that does not change the need to lead with people seeing our own limp.

3.  Invite Accountability

Trust is earned.  One of the ways we can break through the lack of trust people have is to invite accountability and accept responsibility for our actions.  There are too many leaders who are now starting to think that if they just acknowledge their failures then everything should be fine.  We make decisions that impact the lives of others – sometimes in significant ways.  If necessary, we must be willing to lose our leadership (or worse) when we fail the people we serve.  Who are you accountable to? (and God alone is not a good enough answer)

4.  Speak and Act for the Benefit of Others

People perceive the motives of leaders faster than ever before.  They may not know our heart, but they do see our actions.  When we are speaking and acting for the benefit of the broken, vulnerable, and those who are in need we will communicate a message.  Leaders should, to the best of our ability, seek justice (Micah 6:8).

5.  Have Grace and Patience

Seek to understand the stories of those who have been hurt by leaders.  Keep loving them and give them space to learn to trust again.  I am not suggesting we allow these people to dictate our decisions, because we will never make everyone happy.  I am suggesting that we need to graciously consider their needs in the leadership actions we are taking.

#MeToo and #ChurchToo are shining lights on a leadership issue that has been simmering for a very long time.  We need to be leaders of stronger character and greater commitment to bring life to others rather than have others bring life to us.

In our work to minister to men, Promise Keepers Canada has developed a series of leader tip videos.  Some of these videos feature tips to strengthen your character as a leader:

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