18 Ways a New Leader Can Build Trust

Earning Trust in a New Relationship

In the past few months I’ve had the great joy to begin working with some wonderful people—the staff of Emmanuel Baptist Church and Emmanuel Christian Academy. It’s been fun, but also daunting. They don’t know me. I don’t know them. We all have the best of hopes, but at times it’s just “awkwardly new.” I can tell they feel some emotional uncertainty and hesitation. I don’t blame them. Frankly, I do too at times.

One of my early goals at Emmanuel has been to attempt to provide a sense of love, appreciation, and security to the existing staff. I’m still working at it—really we’re just beginning. I wish I could breathe trust and rest into their hearts. I wish I could wave a wand over their heads and settle their spirits so we could all focus on ministry health. But it’s not that easy.

I made a short list of what I’m trying to do to express love, earn trust, and get our pastor/staff relationship off to a healthy start. Perhaps this will encourage you… here are 18 ways to grow trust in a new relationship:

1. Live by Obvious Faith

Obeying God builds trust with people who love God and desire His will. Stepping out in faith, making sacrifices, or somehow demonstrating faith means something to people who understand the faith life.

2. Give Them Truth

God’s Word nurtures the heart, feeds the soul, and refreshes the spirit. When you genuinely, passionately share the Word of God, it’s as meaningful spiritually as someone taking you out for a nice, well-prepared dinner.

3. Acknowledge the Obvious

If there’s an 800 pound gorilla in the room, you may as well acknowledge it and deal with it respectfully, sensitively, but forthrightly. Pretending things are better than they are, acting as if there are no problems, or ignoring the obvious only hurts trust. People hate that game in a leader. Obvious issues may be uncomfortable to deal with, but trustworthy leaders don’t ignore them.

4. Don’t Sweat Small Stuff

In new relationships there are all kinds of ways to misunderstand and bump into each other relationally. New relationships can invite a collision of two very different paradigms. But in spite of all this, there are big fish to fry—big problems to solve—big mountains to claim. It’s critical to get everyone focused on the big issues. Little stuff can be dealt with later. When the building is on fire, you can’t worry about whether or not your socks match.

5. Honor Them

Consider the sacrifice, the accomplishment, and the faithfulness of the other. Right now I’m working with a staff who don’t know me very well, but I know how much respect I have for their labor and faithfulness through very difficult moments in ministry. They need to know it too! They deserve honor, even before I get to know them!

6. Pray for Them

When you truly pray for someone and let them know it—that’s meaningful. Praying for someone says, “I truly care about you. I truly have a relationship with God. I value you enough to seek God’s best for you!”

7. Listen to Them

Ask honest questions and listen to the answers. Shortly after moving to Emmanuel Baptist Church, I sent a survey out to all the folks I now lead as pastor. I invited the staff to be completely comfortable in sharing whatever answers they desired. And I have absolutely been helped by their transparency and even brutal honesty. Their answers have been refreshing and immensely helpful—even the ones that were hard to take!

8. Acknowledge Them

Have you ever been asked a question only to find out that your answer wasn’t valued or considered significant? That’s a real bummer. Don’t do this to people. Value the perspective, the discernment, the insight of the other person and you will always gain trust. Even if you don’t agree with someone else’s opinion, you can still value it, respect it, and consider it. It can still shine light on your perspective that may help you make wiser decisions. Most people don’t expect you to agree with them on everything, but everyone appreciates their input being valued.

9. Write to Them

Take a moment and say thank you. Send an email, write a personal note, or somehow express some personal appreciation.

10. Help Them

Problem-solving leaders are hard to find. But good leaders are always good problem solvers. In fact, if you want to lead, you are asking for people to bring their problems to you so that you can help solve them. Ignoring the problems is destructive. Asking about them but then not taking action is even worse. Help others by being a problem solver—few things gain trust more quickly. But get ready—few things will ravage your energy and deplete your emotions like perpetual problem solving.

11. Give Them Time

Sit down, talk, and expend yourself for others. There is nothing more valuable than your time. Giving someone else time says, “I highly value you!” There’s more to do in this ministry right now than I can comprehend, but sitting down and talking with staff is a high priority.

12. Give Trust Time

Even with all of these other things in place, trust takes time, especially when people have been hurt, ignored, or misled by another leader somewhere in their past. Don’t expect trust to be automatic and instant just because your title demands it. Authentic trust just doesn’t work that way—it always takes time.

13. Own Your Own Failures

Phony leaders are easy to spot because they try to cover their humanity by acting like they’ve got it all together. Funny thing is, everyone intuitively knows  you don’t have it all together. Acting like you do just makes you plastic and aloof. Acknowledging you struggle, you are growing—you are doing your best—just helps people relax and want to labor with you in sincerity.

14. Be Gracious with Disconnect

People of the best intentions who don’t know each other well will bump into each other’s expectations and paradigms—like a newlywed couple. It’s just the stuff of new relationships. It’s awkward. It’s strange. It’s a bit like being on an elevator with a bunch of people you don’t really know. New relationships are going to have disconnect. Sit down, be gracious, talk through it, and let God’s grace form a stronger bond. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s all a part of growing in trust and serving together.

15. Be Approachable with Questions

Anyone can ask a question, anytime, about anything, without feeling shunned or out of place. Open up. Be vulnerable. Let people air their concerns, their hesitations, and their fears. Foster a spirit of understanding and gentleness.

16. Ask God to Help You Understand Their Paradigm

I’m in the middle of learning the paradigm of the people I now work with. I’m finding their past ministry context has created a paradigm that is completely opposite of mine. That’s not a bad thing, but it is like speaking two different languages. It makes for awkward communication—like when you’re doing hand-gestures with someone that doesn’t speak your language.

17. Smile

As long as you are smiling at each other, you know it’s all good and you’ll somehow make progress. If you can smile, you can relieve a lot of tension and stress in a new relationship. Even when you speak different languages, a smile communicates good will, joy, and hope—all of which can foster more trust.

18. Laugh (At Yourself)

Even more powerful than a smile, the right kind of vulnerable, good-spirited laughter—an appropriate sense of humor—can suck tension and stress right out of the room! The best humor is usually that which is at your own expense—everyone loves to laugh at the leader. And be honest—you probably do enough stupid stuff to fill a week with plenty of laughter. Relax and don’t take yourself so seriously. Laughing at yourself and letting others do the same actually pays back more in trust than it costs in pride.

I’m having a good time getting to know some great people—and praying that I can earn and build trust. Pray for me—and them, if you will.

What would you add to this list? How do you work to build trust in new relationships?

If this article was a help to you, consider sharing it with your friends.