By Carey Nieuwhof
It’s the fuel relationships run on.
If you have it, things go so much better.
If you don’t, almost everything—including your mission—suffers or even crumbles before you.Misjudging trust was one of the biggest mistakes I made as a young leader. I’m still actively correcting, refining and learning where to place and not to place trust.
It’s not that I’ve only made five mistakes—I’ve made many more than that. It’s just as I build into younger leaders on our staff, at our church and in the wider church, I keep running into the same issues and the same questions.
So whether you’re just starting out as a young leader, or like me, you’re trying to get some fundamentals right, I’m hoping this five part series of posts can help.
By way of quick background (I tell more of my story and the story of our church in my book), when I started, I was a solo church leader with under 50 people attending services. For years, my office was in my basement (which for the first few years was an unfinished basement). I had to figure a lot of stuff out and, like most people, I didn’t always get it right. Even though our church is much bigger now and I lead a staff team (and we actually have offices), I still remember those lessons like they were yesterday.
And I’m still learning.
So … here are five mistakes I’ve made when it comes to trust as a young leader.
1. Trusting everyone.
By default, I’m a fairly trusting person. I take people at face value. And while I’d rather be trusting than suspicious, I began to realize not everyone was equally trustworthy.
When you trust everyone, you really discriminate against people who are especially trustworthy. You also allow people not capable of handling the trust extended to them to misuse it and hurt others. Trusting everyone ultimately hurts everyone. In case you’re thinking it’s un-Christian not to trust everyone, Jesus didn’t trust certain people either.
2. Not checking track records.
When assigning new leadership responsibilities, I missed checking into people’s track records. While we were early adopters in things like criminal record checks for people, trust is about much more than whether you have a criminal past.
Whenever you’re trusting someone with responsibility, it’s important to assess how responsible they’ve been with previous responsibilities—at your church, at a past church, at work, at home with their family, in the community and elsewhere in life. And while everyone gets a fresh start with the Gospel, trustworthiness in the past is the best indicator of trustworthiness in the future.
3. Trusting too late.
Like almost every leader, I got burned a few times on trust. For a season, my default moved from trust to suspicion. I missed out on some great leaders in that season. I also missed out on seeing leaders around me reach their potential. Trusting a trustworthy person too late in the game is almost as bad as trusting everyone equally.
4. Not trusting.
I mention this only because I’ve seen this too many times. Get burned badly, and some leaders just stop trusting. I flirted with this briefly and fortunately got out of it quickly. If you trust no one, you will eventually have no one. I’ve seen more than a few leaders stop trusting. Get on your knees and get to a counselor immediately if that’s you.
5. Not realizing that alignment is a critical ingredient to organizational trust.
Just because you can trust someone personally doesn’t mean you can trust them organizationally. What I mean by that is that I might hand someone my wallet or entrust them with my home (they are good people!), but they may be completely the wrong fit for our church, even if they are completely devoted Christians. When someone is aligned with an organization's mission, vision, strategy and values, they become capable of enormous organizational trust.
Usually, mistrust emerges in an organization when someone is given leadership, but then starts to run in a different direction than the organization is running. For example, a musician who loves Jesus and loves tuba music—no matter how skilled they are—is going to be a bad fit on our team. They could be a passionate tuba player like this guy and a better Christian than I am, but because our music strategy doesn’t involve the frequent use of the tuba, putting them on our team would hurt.
Great people get deeply hurt in situations like this. What I look for as much as anything now when deciding whether someone should take on leadership responsibility is not just character, competence and chemistry, but alignment around our strategy and our values. When you have that, you can go far.