Can I Trust You?

“When I started this church, he was the first one I invited to join me. I gave him all the freedom and opportunity he wanted, resourced him and stood by him. And this is how he thanks me,” Mark lamented as he told me about his best friend and ministry partner leaving the church to begin another one in town—and taking about a third of the church with him. 

“I can’t believe I trusted him,” he continued.

What Mark didn’t know was that Tyler, the friend he was talking about, had just unloaded a pile of pain to me when I had run into him at a conference the previous week. The way Tyler described the demise of their relationship painted a different picture than Mark was sharing with me. From Mark’s perspective, he was the victim of a betrayal, but Tyler said that he finally gave up on feeling that he could trust Mark’s leadership—or even their relationship—and had to move on.

There was no doubt that trust had broken down. In a brief article like this, it is impossible to go into all of the dynamics of a broken relationship and what it would take to fix it. But what I would like to do is provide a framework that I would use to help understand the “trust dynamics” at work if I had been asked to help before it all went foul. This framework can also help you get a good read on some of your leadership relationships so you can avoid trusting the wrong people or, when you do trust, you can have a greater chance of it going well.

Why Trust Matters

When people ask me why I decided to write my new book, Trust, I always say that no matter what kind of situation I get called into as a leadership consultant, before very long we will be looking at some issue regarding trust that is at the center of the problem or opportunity people are facing.

* Succession: Who can the board trust with the vision to embody and carry out its DNA?

* Key Positions: Who can a leader entrust with a key role and be assured that the person can deliver what is needed?

* Team Conflict: Where have personal agendas or character issues caused division or inhibited team performance?

* Delegation: Where is an inability to trust leading someone to micromanage?

* Empowerment: Why is a board or an elder interfering with the leader or their staff? 

* Enabling: Where is someone continuing to be entrusted with resources and influence when they have clearly not performed?

In all of these scenarios, either an inability to grant trust where it is needed, a granting of trust where it is not deserved, a failure to do the things that earn trust, or an inability to repair it is keeping the problem going. 

So, how does a leader address an issue of trust? To do so requires knowing what issues are causing the breakdown. Here are five sets of questions you can use to answer the dilemma, Can I trust this person to deliver what I need or not? They are based on a lot of research findings, leadership literature and personal experience, and are the subject of Trust. I find them very helpful for teams and individuals to get to the roots of trust.

  1. Understanding 

How well does this person truly understand what I need in this relationship to make us satisfied? Do they understand what helps us, what hurts us, what we desire and what makes us happy and able to do well? Do they understand what we fear and what causes us not to do well? Do they know our pain points and success drivers that we need from them? Do they listen enough to understand us well enough to give us what we need?

  1. Motive 

Is this person motivated for my good? Or are their motives only for their own self-interest? Do they want the best for me? Do they have our organization or team’s interests in mind in how they operate, or do they only care about their own agenda and needs? Does it make them happy when we “win?” Do they look out for our side when we are not there, and act in ways that are good for us? Do they have our back?

  1. Ability 

Does this person have the actual skills and abilities to perform what I (we) need them to perform? Someone can be trustworthy in one position or be a good person, yet not have the ability to really play well at the different position I am thinking of entrusting to them or in the ways that the team is needing for them to perform well. Can they carry the ball that we want them to carry and get the results we need? 

  1. Character 

Does this person have the personal makeup that is needed in this particular context? Of course, the “permission to play” character traits of being honest and moral must be present, but past those, do they have the personal makeup to do what we need? Do they have the perseverance to face a tough role or season that is coming? Do they need too many attaboys or attagirls in a role where there are not going to be a lot of “wins” for a while? Do they have a cool head and patience in a situation where there will be a lot of conflict? Are they conflict avoidant in a situation that is going to require a lot of difficult conversations? If compassion and empathy is needed, do they possess that or are they too tough-skinned for this particular delicate situation?

  1. Track Record 

What happened the last time they had a similar role or position? What happened the last time they had responsibilities like we are going to entrust to them now? Are they proven? Are they really vetted? If there was a failure, have we seen more than “I’m sorry,” and actually witnessed the creation of a new track record long enough to prove ability? People do change after failure, but until a new track record is proven, the best predictor of the future is the past. We need to see a good recent past.

While there’s no guarantee that we will never get duped, we can mitigate the risk. Too many times we find someone who is good at a few of these five, but we do not take the time to look at all five. In my experience, to overlook any of them is a dangerous risk.

I hope all of your trust moves go well and you are never betrayed or let down. In reality, you probably won’t have 100% success, but I do think that if you use the five guides listed above, you will avoid some serious heartache.

Hear more from Henry Cloud and his latest book at this year’s Global Leadership Summit on August 3–4, 2023. Register today at GlobalLeadership.org/summit with promo code YourREACH23 for discounted rates at one of 400+ local hosting sites, the LIVE main campus outside Chicago or online.