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Everyone leads something – a group of friends, a team at work, your family, yourself. You are a leader.  And the sooner you understand this fact, the sooner you can bring intentionality to your leadership. 

I remember the first time this impacted me personally. I was a freshman in high school and had been invited to attend a one day leadership conference. We gathered in a cafeteria-turned-auditorium that still smelled of the previous day’s lunch. I don’t remember a single word spoken that day, but I do remember being mesmerized by the speakers and the idea that I could influence change in the world. From that moment forward, I read leadership books, attended leadership conferences, sought leadership opportunities, and dreamed of the things I would one day lead.

Over the course of time, I’ve had the privilege of leading in a variety of different organizations and settings from student organizations to neighborhood associations to pastoring churches to leading staff and growing a family. During this time, I’ve experienced healthy and unhealthy cultures brought about by healthy and unhealthy leaders. And while there are many factors that influence leadership and culture, I have become convinced that the greatest single factor in our leadership is trust. Can we trust those we are called to lead? Can they trust us? 

In fact,  time management and leadership expert, Stephen Covey has famously stated: “Leadership is getting results in a way that inspires trust because organizations move at the speed of trust.” This is true of every organization, but even of yourself. You will move no faster than you trust yourself to make a decision and you will let no one lead you unless you trust their capacity to make decisions that impact you. 

There was a time when I worked for an organization lacking in trust. Or perhaps better stated, the organization trusted its senior leader, but he in turn trusted no one. The culture was difficult on the best days and intolerable on the worst. There were times I was publicly hailed as a hero, only to find myself days later being privately vilified as public enemy number one. It was disorienting. It was frustrating. It was unfair. It was sinful. 

At Grace, I’ve experienced the opposite, a culture that inspires freedom and joy in my work. I contribute most of this to the culture and the trust I have in the people around me. We are committed to a common mission and we strive to live out grace-centered truth – being honest with one another in a way that seeks to clarify and build up rather than ostracize and tear down. 

But this may not be your reality. Maybe you’re a team leader or employee who would like to inspire change and take steps toward creating a more trusting environment.

How do you know if your organization lacks trust? And what can you do about it?

People Rarely Share Input or Ideas

When an organization lacks trust, leaders do not ask for input and people do not feel safe offering it. As a result, the best ideas rarely surface, people go along with the group or the strongest personality to keep the peace and before long, you find yourself feeling resentful because you are forced to work toward goals you do not believe in and did not help shape. 

As a team leader: Create space for ideas to be shared and processed, watch your colleagues during meetings, and give them permission to speak when it seems they have something to say. Allow time to brainstorm ideas and ask questions like: 

  • How could we improve this? 
  • What would make this experience better for our customers? 

As a team member: Be brave and appropriately bold. Ask your team leader for a one-on-one meeting, then take the risk to share your best ideas. Be humble, be polite, but share ways you think the ideas and work you are doing could be improved. Start with statements like: 

  • I was so excited about the idea you shared in our team meeting last week that I couldn’t stop thinking about it and was wondering if it would be even better if we….
  • The idea you shared last week got me thinking about… 
  • I’ve been working on this process for sometime and I am starting to see ways it could be improved…


Criticism and Affirmation is Shared about People, Not to People

People can’t be honest if they are not trusted. As a result, people complain and gossip, but rarely engage in honest conversations that produce desired outcomes. Without trust, praising a colleague could result in being overlooked for a promotion and having difficult conversations could end in retribution or reprimand. 

As a team leader: Praise publicly and critique privately. Spend part of your meetings celebrating your team and their wins, encourage a positive culture by asking questions like: 

  • Who have you seen go the extra mile this week?
  • Has anyone helped you or someone else accomplish our mission and achieve our goals? 
  • Who have you noticed living out our core values? 

Then, when you see the need for a hard conversation you have built up trust and can begin by reminding of wins, before settling into the necessary critique. And as always, be prepared to go first. If the meeting falls silent, have your own list of wins you’ve seen and when it is time to share failures, don’t be afraid to admit your own fears or shortcomings. This gives your team permission to share their own. 

As a team member: Seek input from your leader/supervisor. If you want to grow, you need to know how those who lead you perceive you. Schedule a meeting with your supervisor and let them know you desire to grow as a team member and leader and then ask them to provide you with the feedback you need. Ask questions like

  • In what ways can I have a more positive impact on the team and our goals? 
  • What strengths do you see me bringing to the team?
  • Are there any skills you would like to see me learn or develop? 


Communication Breakdowns Are the Norm

These breakdowns can manifest in a variety of ways. Perhaps you most often find yourself involved in conversations too early or too late. You feel micromanaged and instead of being allowed to work toward goals, you find every step of the process dictated and monitored. You often find you do not know the goals your team is working toward because they have not been defined or shared. Decisions are often revisited and changed after being agreed upon.  With every break in communication you or your team lose trust in each other. 

As a team leader: Work toward clarity. Redesign the org chart, realign job descriptions, remind people of the process and the flow of information. Ask your team to honor others by allowing them to hear information from the appropriate person at the appropriate time. Insist on confidentiality and when it all goes sideways, be quick to own it and apologize to those who have been impacted. 

As a team member: Ask for clarity on reporting structures, processes, and meeting and report schedules. As decisions are being processed, consider who else needs to be included, and work to include them. Once decisions are made, consider who you need to communicate this decision to, and in what order. Then be sure to follow up appropriately. Keep your supervisor informed of decisions and ask regularly if there is anything else you need to know to be able to execute your job efficiently.

Remember, you are a leader. You have influence and the more intentional you are in developing and utilizing your influence, the more trust you will inspire and the more effective your leadership will be. 


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