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Trust and Leadership

Trust and Leadership – Reflections on Team building

At first glance the title of this blog, Trust and Leadership, may imply yet another exhortation to learn how to trust our leaders.  However, the intent is something quite the opposite.  It might better be titled – Leaders who Trust. Allow me to explain.

I have recently completed another transition in my professional life.  This change was a move from leading a team of 12-15 people to what is most often called an “individual contributor”.  In essence, I will be a project focused resource, taking responsibility for specific assignments that don’t involve all of the various administration, coaching and guiding responsibilities that come with being a leader in a business environment.  While I will miss much of the human interaction that came with that role, I am looking forward to the change.

Trust and LeadershipIn preparation for this, I spent some time reflecting on my several decades in leadership roles and team experiences.  My first was as a team captain in various sports situations in college.  In business, my first official leadership role was as the manager of a small team of two employees at the age of 29.  So much has changed since those days but as I have reflected back the key theme that was highlighted was the relationship between trust and leadership.  The best teams I were ever part of were powered by trust, in both directions.  However, in my experience, it starts with the leader trusting his or her team the same way the pictured technician is trusting their support systems.

The other common thread that has weaved through my life since my early 20’s was my connection to Jesus of Nazareth.  I have followed and written about him throughout my adult life and look to him as the most amazing, influential and impactful leader in the history of humanity.  In fact, in various security ID confirmation questions, I regularly use the question “Who is your favourite leader?” and answer “Jesus Christ”.  There is no doubt in my mind.  It is from Jesus that I have learned the most about trust and leadership.  At this point in my life I have concluded there is no other way to lead.

Readers who are familiar with the gospels will quickly recognize some or all of the stories I’ll reference here.  If you are not acquainted with them, I recommend you look them up, read and meditate on them.  The leadership lessons are profound.  Here are just a few:

1 – Jesus followers never did fully “get it”. Neither will yours.  Trust them anyway.

In coming upon his followers trying to heal a boy who was experiencing demonic seizures, Jesus says “You unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.”  Hardly a positive and encouraging performance feedback session.  Read the entire story in Matthew 17:14-20.  This is just one of many similar encounters.  Even though this was clearly a rebuke, Jesus continued to work with this group and didn’t abandon them.

2 – Jesus closest disciples argued about who was the greatest. So will yours.  Trust them anyway.

As it became clear to his followers that Jesus was something very special and he and his team were beginning to develop a reputation for doing great things they began to compare with each other.  This of course is very common in all successful teams.  After all, it must be one of our superstars that is driving the most results, right?

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.  Mark 9:33-34

Despite this clear confrontation, if you read further in this story you will see Jesus continuing to teach them about humility.  This blend of willingness to confront wrong thinking and behaviour combined with patient repetition of key concepts is foundational to trust and leadership.  My temptation would be to cut them loose and start over with a new group!

3 – Jesus’ team coveted the inner circle of influence and power. So will some of your team.  Trust them anyway.

More than once Jesus’ followers asked to sit at his left and right hand (positions of authority).  In fact, even one of their well-meaning mothers got in on the act.

Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons (James and John) came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” Matthew 20:20-21

Do you think it is possible that the boys put their mother up to this?  Whether they did or not, you will also find them asking the question directly in Mark 10:37.

What if they never get it? What is amazing about Jesus is that the type of behaviour shown in these examples continued right to the end of Jesus life and his time with his followers.  Even at their last meal together just before his trial and crucifixion we see this:

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Luke 22:24

They still don’t get it!  Time and time again throughout their 3 years together, Jesus closest followers can’t pray, heal, teach or behave right.  They try and keep children, women and those needing healing away from him while misunderstanding why he was on the earth in the first place.  They assumed he would drive out the Romans at any time and restore the kingdom to Israel.  Yet Jesus does not give up on them and continues to patiently rebuke, correct and teach and more importantly continues to send them out to represent the team.  Why?  I believe the answer is simple yet profound.

If you don’t believe your team can do it, they never will.  This means trust and leadership must go hand in hand.  In fact, in addition to this you must get out of the way and let your team surpass you.  One of Jesus last statements to his followers was “It is better for you that I go away…”  Unfortunately we see religious leaders throughout the ages displaying the complete opposite behaviour.  However, that is a post for another day.

Regardless of what you believe about Jesus or his followers, the evidence of Jesus leadership is all around you.  His immediate followers, empowered by the trust of their leader, changed the world forever.  May we experience just a small sample of that type of trust and world changing impact.

John Matthews

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