Trust: "Don't Leave Home Without It"

By George Petrusma  |  October 10th

I had the privilege and pleasure of attending a Global Leadership Summit (GLS) watch party with several other school leaders and educators this past summer.

Craig Groeschel’s opening GLS chat about the essence of trust captured me. I have been thinking about that presentation since I heard it on August 3rd. In a nutshell, his challenge was to intentionally develop leadership trust through transparency, empathy, and consistency. It has struck me how much my leadership existence and flourishing depends on a high level of trust, and how I need to direct more of my attention toward the development of trust.

My life as a Christian leader must be focused on the two greatest commandments: love God above all and my neighbour as myself. “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 path straight” is a clear instruction from Proverbs that, when followed, calibrates us well with our Lord and Saviour. That foundational confession must be part of a Christian leader’s DNA.

Craig’s chat focused on the second commandment of how to love our neighbour as a leader in today’s society through the lens of “trust.”

What is your “landscape” in leadership? Your Christian school exists in a world where skepticism abounds. Due to the ease with which online rhetoric can be constructed and shared, we rightly do not believe everything we read. When our cell phones ring and there is an unknown caller or a number from a location that is not familiar to us, many of us let our voicemail take the call. Often, no message is left and so our minds go to an unwanted salesperson or a scam artist. Just two examples of many in which we default to the position of not trusting. Have you noticed that we as a society are teaching ourselves and the next generation not to trust? That dynamic complicates our roles as leaders.

Do a little “gut check” with me. Do you trust everyone in your building? Board members? Parents? Students? Teachers? Other staff members? If not, why not? Possible explanations may be that something happened which demonstrated a lack of trust, or you have not yet had enough connection to freely hand out trust.

Let’s now turn the tables. Do people trust you? If not, why not? Let’s take a look at some of Craig’s ideas that will help develop your attention to leadership trust.

1. Transparency

How much do you communicate and what is the content? As in all workplace relationships, one must decide how much to share, both professionally and personally, with the people who are part of the community. For example, do I share pieces of my personal life and my highs and lows of leadership with my staff? How much do you empower your staff to be co-participants in formulating school changes? Transparency must be part of your practice, and you will need to be aware of where boundaries exist. When communication decreases, uncertainty increases. Even not being able to share all of the reasons and discussions behind a certain decision is an opportunity for transparency by naming privacy laws by which you are bound.

2. Empathy

Have you ever found yourself so busy that you have missed opportunities to be fully present in another’s world? I personally wrestle with this part of my leadership. Leadership thinkers have shared this sentiment in multiple ways. Craig Groeschel stated, “Your team will never care about your mission, if you do not care about your team” while Theodore Roosevelt said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  Empathy is demonstrated by the leader noticing and, through actions and words, communicating that the other person matters. Do you slow down enough to put yourself in an empathetic posture? Do you spend extra time listening your way into leadership by asking further questions to fully understand?

3. Consistency

Do you ever get the feeling that your staff gets a different leader depending on the intensity of the issues you are dealing with that day? Does your staff ever wonder which “you” is going to walk into a meeting? If you feel inconsistent, you are not alone. Many leaders are inconsistent and need to find ways to minimize the effect of highs and lows in leadership.  Encourage yourself to be clear in what you expect. Encourage it when you see it, and correct it when you don’t. Consistency produces emotional safety for your staff and community. Trust is enhanced when the leader’s posture, demeanor, and disposition don’t change from decision to decision, and/or from day to day.

Now what? First, convince yourself that trust is crucial if you have not yet already done so. Second, ask your staff what it is like to be on the other side of you. Adopt a posture of growth and openness to hear what is shared with you. Third, set goals to increase one or more of Craig’s categories to propel yourself to a place of higher trust. He maintains that the future of leadership is trust. I tend to agree. May you be blessed by the Lord as you give leadership this school year. Shalom.

George Petrusma is the South Toronto Region Cohort Leader and Principal at John Knox Christian School in Oakville, ON.