Interpersonal Leadership: Trust-Building
Preparing to Begin Again”
by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., adapted from SkillTrack®
Vol. 7.2 - Trust-Building
if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother
has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First
go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”
1. Building Trust? Yes, and Rebuilding
- My central
premise: “Among the highest of leadership obligations is
to develop and maintain trusting relationships; and the second is to repair
broken trust.” (L. Elder) That statement is a central premise of
these articles on trust-building: how and why do you build trusting relationships,
and how do you repair broken ones? Just how do you rebuild and begin all over
again, either in personal, church, or work relationships?
From observation and experience, like the highway systems we travel, trust
always seems to be under repair; that is the very nature of the wear and tear
of human relationships, including congregational ministry. Let me recall just
a few of the most common stress factors calling out for the rebuilding of
- assumption: acting as if trust has been established, when it really
has never existed
- breakdown: a major conflict, breach of confidence, or ethical behavior
- performance: not doing your work at a contributing, expected level
- erosion: a pattern over time of neglect, small failures, or broken
- personal behavior: a moral failure, a “me first” or “me
- miscommunications: failure to clarify or explain yourself, your words,
- mistakes: human error in judgment or action, often causes temporary
loss of trust
Like renovating a damaged structure, building trust is even more difficult
when you have to redo it, again and again. But such rebuilding
is absolutely necessary to sustain relationship and leadership. This is
true in every arena of life: in the home among family members; at work among
employees and with management; and, among members of a congregation and
with their leaders; in schools, communities, and among nations.
(adapted from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, and other sources)
The meanings of the word rebuild are relevant in this paper on trust
and trust-building. As you read through the following meanings and applications,
reflect on your own insight into this essential and challenging process. “Rebuild”
is used in at least two different contexts: first, as in the rebuilding of
physical objects, such as houses, bridges, and cars; and second, as in rebuilding
social associations, such as society, congregations, careers, and other human
relationships. Examples from several sources and ministry applications:
- to make extensive repairs, to reconstruct; to restore to a previous
state: rebuild inventories; or, to rebuild your “personal trust
account” as a ministry leader - to make extensive changes in; to
remodel: rebuild society; or, to reestablish a trust environment in your
- to build again, to make a fresh effort, or make major repairs: with
the insurance money, we can rebuild after the fire; or, to rebuild confidence
in your youth ministry.
- to completely repair, especially to dismantle and reassemble with new
parts: as to rebuild an old car; or, to analyze giving patterns prior
to stewardship planning.
- to replace, restrengthen, or reinforce: to rebuild an army by changing
its structure, leadership, personnel, and armament; or, strengthen the
work of the deacons.
- to revise, reshape, or reorganize: to rebuild a shattered career;
to assess and make substantial changes in your approach ministry as you
- Synonyms of “rebuild”—
definition, to restore, to bring back to a previous normal condition.
Synonyms: reclaim, recondition, reconstruct, rehabilitate,
reinstate, rejuvenate, renovate, restitute.
- My Summary of Trust-Building:
It is perhaps beneficial in this article on rebuilding trust, to restate from
article SL#73 in this series on Trust-Building,
my summary of the meaning and process of trust-building. It is like correcting
your ministry game plan and performance by going back to basics:
- Be trustworthy in all your handling of the message of God’s love
- Be reliable as the basis of trusting others and being trusted by them.
- Be faithful to yourself, to your beliefs, values, and feelings.
- Accept others and hold in high regards their ideas, actions, and feelings.
- Be forward-looking in spirit, attitude and action.
- Support and sustain others in their efforts to achieve their goals.
- Express a cooperative, mutual spirit in working together.
- Do good and not harm to others.
- Do not take advantage of the openness, weakness, or vulnerability of
- Expect trustworthiness to breed trust.
2. Scripture Teaches Rebuilding Trust
Most often without using the term for trust, the biblical record teaches us
to rebuild trust and to move on in our spiritual and vocational life; let’s
review and apply a few:
- Matthew 5:23-24—“Therefore, if you are
offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something
against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be
reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” Interpretation:
Jesus gives two illustrations exposing the seriousness of anger. The first
in a setting of temple worship (vv. 23-24) concerns a brother—whether
of family, ethnic, or spiritual relationship. The second in a judicial setting
(vv. 25-26) and relates to an adversary. Remarkably, neither illustration
deals with “your” anger but with “your” offense that
has prompted the brother's or the adversary's rancor. In the midst of solemn
worship, recollection of a brother with something against one, should in Christ's
disciples prompt immediate efforts to be reconciled (v. 24). Only then is
formal worship acceptable. Application: Anger here is an
expression of radical broken trust. Worship examines the true nature of our
feelings and behavior, and calls for a priority of specific and appropriate
response. Human trust-building is crucial to our deepest reconciliation with
- 1 Corinthians 4:2—“Now it is required
that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” Application:
This text, quoted throughout these articles is a fundamental basis for rebuilding
trust as well as building trust. A person who is steward [manager] of the
affairs of another, must prove faithfulness in deeds, not in words.
- 2 Corinthians 5:18-20—“All this is from
God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry
of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ,
not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message
of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were
making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled
to God.” Application: Reconciliation means the
restoration of a good relationship between adversaries. Becoming right in
your relationship with God through Christ is the model for our most fundamental
trust-building efforts with others. One of the truest ways we serve as ambassadors
of the reconciling Christ is to draw others to us in a mutual trusting relationship.
- Philippians 4:2-3—“I plead with Euodia
and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I
ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side
in the cause of the gospel, . . . ” Application:
Although the term rebuilding trust is not used in the text, it has long been
a common understanding that the contention of these two godly and devoted
women was a threat to the fellowship of this loving and caring congregation.
The two conflicting parties had a primary responsibility to rebuild their
relationship around the gospel, not their dividing issue. And the spiritual
leadership of the congregation must not neglect the issue but be of help to
them to restore trust.
- Philemon Vs. 17-19—“So if you consider
me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any
wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with
my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your
very self.” Application: Onesimus, Philemon’s
runaway slave, had apparently wronged his owner and fled for desperate help
to Paul, himself a prisoner of Rome. Why? Perhaps for refuge from deserved
punishment, or even for spiritual guidance, having apparently known of the
apostle from his previous visits to Philemon. He had become a convert and
was returned to his owner, with Paul's entreaty to Philemon to receive him
as a son. In effect, Paul, based on Onesimus’ conversion and changed
behavior, trusted the slave’s value, pleading his case for Philemon
to do the same. Trust calls forth trust, even in the severest cases such as
3. Learning from Trusted Leaders
- Rekindling trust in the workplace is a widespread need discovered
by national surveys. (quoted in Motivational Management, by
Alexander Hiam, pp 5-6)
- Survey question: “Do you think people would try to take advantage
of you if they got a chance. or would they try to be fair?”
- Survey response: In the 1970’s, 64% thought others
would be fair. In the 1980’s that percent slipped to 58%,
and by the end of the 1990’s it was down to 52%. Whatever the reasons,
it behooves business leaders to keep this shift in mind.
- Another survey indicates that whenever two or more people are interacting
in their work, they are probably distrustful of each other’s motives.
- Conclusion from these studies: You can see why it is necessary to work
on building trust and emphasizing strong communications and teamwork in
- Examine what happens when people do not trust each other.
(from The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner, p. 147) Often
we start to repair broken relationships when we examine how people act when
they do not trust, and change our behavior: They will ignore, disguise,
and distort facts, ideas, conclusions, and feelings that they believe will
increase their vulnerability to others. Not surprisingly, the likelihood of
misunderstanding and misinterpretation will increase. When you don’t
trust someone, you resist letting them influence you. You are suspicious and
unreceptive to their proposals and goals, suggestions for reaching those goals,
and their definition of criteria and methods for evaluating progress. Unless
there are changes in behavior, the relationship stabilizes at a low level
of trust. . . . It increases the probability that underlying problems
may go undetected or be avoided, that inappropriate solutions will be difficult
to identify, and that joint problem-solving efforts will deteriorate.
- Rebuilding trust is rebuilding lost leadership credibility: Three
elements of trust are reported as links supporting the thesis of this article:
Trust is of greatest importance as an attribute of credibility; building interpersonal
trust is the work of us all; and rebuilding lost leadership will require daily
and very specific attention--rebuilding credibility [trust]. (from Credibility
by Kouzes and Posner)
- Of all the attributes of credibility, however, there is one that
is unquestionably of the greatest importance: being seen as someone who
can be trusted, who has high integrity, and who is honest and truthful
is essential. . . . So the credibility check can reliable be simplified
to just one question: “Do I trust this person?”. . . Credibility,
like reputation, is something that is earned over time. It does not come
automatically with the job or the title. . . . The credibility foundation
is built [and rebuilt] brick by brick. (pp 24-25)
- Until we all, constituents and leaders alike, grab our picks and
shovels and work to repair our interpersonal infrastructure, style will
continue to succeed over substance, and technique will continue to triumph
over truth. (p. 2)
- Rebuilding lost leadership credibility [trust] will require
daily attention. Leaders will have to nurture their relationships with
constituents. The will have to show people that they care, every day.
They will have to take the time to act consciously and consistently. Their
actions must speak louder than their words. Leadership, after all, exists
only in the eyes of the constituents (p. 56).
- Building and rebuilding trust is a continual dialogue based on
(from Spirited Leadership by Ellen Castro, (p. 116)
“The spirited leader believes in building relationships: healthy
relationships based on mutual trust and respect and relationships grounded
in shared value, forgiveness, compassion, and honesty. . . . Through continual
dialogue, balance develops between task and process and task and relationship,
which creates ownership, commitment, and innovation. Healthy relationships
equal healthy businesses. Healthy businesses equal healthy profits!”
- The servant leader builds trust within congregations as healer
(from Servant Leadership by Robert K. Greenleaf) From his section on
“Servant Leadership in Churches,” Greenleaf’s selected concepts
suggest a positive, rather than predominantly negative posture, that is, trust
can be restored by the servant leader as healer and builder:
- Servant-leaders are healers in the sense of making whole by helping
others to a larger and nobler vision and purpose than they would be likely
to attain for themselves. (p.227)
- Let me suggest a definition for our purposes: An institution is
a gathering of persons who have accepted a common purpose, and a common
discipline to guide the pursuit of that purpose, to the end that each
involved person reaches higher fulfillment as a person, through serving
and being served by the common venture, that would be achieved alone or
in a less committed relationship. (p. 237)
- Those outside can criticize, flagellate, and disrupt, but only
those who are inside can build. For the servant who had the capacity to
be a builder, the greatest joy in the world is in building. will not the
growing edge church become the chief nurturer of servant leaders, institution
builder for the future? (p. 248)
4. Ten Trust-Building Practices and
“Mistrusting groups self-destruct. When members mistrust each
other, they repel and separate. Members of mistrusting groups turn against
each other. They pursue their own interests.” --The Leadership
Triad, p. 124
This closing section has two practical purposes: First, to summarize a check
list of specific actions you may pursue, and Second, assess your present plan
of actions to restore broken trust; using a scale from 1-low-to-5-high to
answer the following question: “Am I already pursuing this suggested
practice and behavior to rebuild trusting relationships?”
1) ___Follow biblical instructions related to repairing
broken relationships. Some of these are earlier reviewed and applied in section
#2, such as: responsible initiative, reconciliation, forgiveness, changed
behavior, and the higher good. Reconciliation with God is the most empowering
environment for restoration between us frail human beings.
2) ___Rebuild, by building trust, following the reported
strategies in previous articles in this series: be trustworthy and trusting,
communicate clearly, be honest and consistent, take responsibility and practice
your ministry competently, encourage others, and pursue a great cause with
3) ___ Reflect on the broken trust. Begin from the ground
up, laying brick by brick. Seek to answer a two-fold question: “How
has trust been broken, and what is my responsibility for the break?”
- What is the exact nature of the broken trust? Think it over; write down
- When did it start? Over what? How has it developed over time?
- What was the critical event, or, “the final straw that broke
the camel’s back?”
- What have I contributed to the damaged trust? Assume you have some responsibility.
4) ___Show mutual respect. Establish mutual expectations
and engage together in new beginnings by asking the question, “How
did we get to this point?” “What can we do about our relationship?”
“I need to listen to your feeling.”
5) ___ Lay the first brick, forgiving and being forgiven:
“I'm sorry for my role in our troubled relationship. Will you forgive
me for breaking my promise to help your son while he was in trouble?”
6) ___ Express your feelings, and pay attention to how others
truly feel about the relationship. Do not manipulate; valued relationships
can be fragile, so care for them consistently.
7) ___Communicate, communicate, communicate: stay focused
on the troubled trust issue at hand; be clear with truth, facts, and feelings;
give and get significant feedback; and monitor progress or the lack of it.
Always keep communication two-way.
8) ___Make restitution, if that is possible, for damage
done by the broken trust. When you take the security of trust away from another,
what can you contribute toward restoring it?
9) ___Change your behavior patterns, from negative to positive.
“Measure me, not by new promises, but by my behavior and
actions; by my ministry performance.” Stephen R. Covey
affirms: “You can’t talk yourself out of problems
you behave yourself into.”
10)___Be patient; give time for the process of rebuilding
trust to create change. Back away if necessary. Wounds of the spirit and of
relationships must heal from the inside out.
Closing Reflections on Trust-Building:
“Among the most essential qualities of human spirit are to trust
oneself and build trust with others.”--Gandhi
Each one of us has to see to our own life and leadership task of trust-building.
Write your own case study of trust-building. What great life-changing “sayings,”
concepts, or examples have been passed along to you by others? How have you
built your life around them? Could you draw on those sayings, your own experience,
and this series of articles on building trust to describe how you will sustain
trusting relationships? You may even want to work through this study again.
When it comes to trust, it always starts with you--and the Lord. My lifetime
biblical text has encouraged and challenged me along the way. I close with
Proverbs. 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all
your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge
him, and he will make your paths straight.”
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© 2008 servantleaderstoday.com; hosted and copyrighted
by Lloyd Elder & Associates, Inc.
For full citation of referenced works, see Bibliography/Links
Adapted by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., Founding Director, Moench Center for Church Leadership