Interpersonal Leadership: Trust-Building
“Trust-Building: The Leadership Essential” (SL#73)
A Trust-Building Series Overview
by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., adapted from SkillTrack®
7.2 – Trust-Building

1. Begin with an Understanding of Trust-Building

  • Five leadership tasks: The intention of this article is to introduce the claim that trust-building is an essential task of leaders within a congregation, and to expand this in a series of articles (#73–#86) in the Servant Leaders Library. After a substantial study of trust-building, I have come to establish at the core of trust-building five leadership tasks:
    • As a servant leader, prove yourself trustworthy in word and deed; it begins with you.
    • Consistently trust others in the congregation, and genuinely care for them.
    • Win trust from others, days by days, in every way, over and over again.
    • Intentionally nurture a “trust climate” within, and for the congregation.
    • Through trusting relationships, move together toward mutual mission achievement.
  • Key Trust Texts: First, using the terms for “required’ and “faithful,” the Apostle Paul affirms that being trustworthy is essential. Writing to the church in Corinth, he made these concepts both a personal confession and a universal principle of the action and behavior
    in the life of a congregation. Second, reflecting first on the life of Moses, the writer of Hebrews asserts that Christ is trustworthy over the house of God, providing believers a stabilizing family relationship:

    1 Corinthians 4:1-2: So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. (NIV)

    Hebrews 3:5-6: Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house, testifying to what would be said in the future. But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast. (NIV)

  • Fostering Trust: In Credibility, Kouzes and Posner report their research that supports the claim that fostering trust is expected of credible leaders:

    “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 reliably 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 [trust] foundation is built brick by brick.” (see pp. 24-25)

  • Emotional Bank Account: Stephen R. Covey identifies his use of the concept of trust in Principled-Centered Leadership:

    “Trustworthiness is based on character, what you are as a person, and competence, what you can do . . . Trustworthiness is the foundation of trust. Trust at the interpersonal level is the emotional bank account between two people that enables them to have a win- win performance agreement. . . . Trust–or the lack of it–is at the root of success or failure in relationships and in the bottom-line results . . .” (see p.31)

  • Trust, the Miracle Ingredient: In Building Trust in the Workplace (pp. 13, 21), Gordon Shea describes trust and claims this powerful benefit:

    “Trust is the ultimate intangible. It has no shape or substance, yet it empowers our actions. And its presence or absence can govern our behavior as if it were a tangible force. . . . Trust is the ‘miracle ingredient’ in organizational life–a lubricant that reduces friction, a bonding agent that glues together disparate parts, a catalyst that facilitates action. No substitute–neither threat nor promise–will do the job as well.”

  • Trust and Leadership (Elder): Now, let me introduce my own working definition of “trust,” expressing leadership as a relationship. It will be repeated in other articles and expanded in the effort to be a trust-builder. Trust is a mutual willingness to reach out among people

    • believing in another’s character, competence, and goodwill;
    • openly disclosing information and personal feelings;
    • respecting, accepting one another;
    • sharing valued resources and goals;
    • minimizing the control factor in relationships;
    • risking consequences, both benefits and losses;
    • contributing together as leaders and followers to the work and results.
  • Study Objectives: What are the basic objectives and content regarding trust-building? In order to present trust-building as a critical skill, essential to effective leadership in the congregation, the Servant Leaders Library articles will pursue at least five objectives:
    • to understand the framework and elements of trust and trust-building;
    • to present 10 practices, even strategies, to build trust in the congregation;
    • to assess your present trust-building behavior and experiences;
    • to reflect on trust within your congregation, its specific faces and cases;
    • to choose specific areas for focused work and improvement;
    • to revitalize your relationships and leadership as a servant leader.

2. Build Trust on Biblical Concepts

An understanding of trust begins with Holy Scripture; in the New Testament the concept for “trust” and “trustworthy” is found primarily in the words for faith, faithfulness, and to believe. Most often it is descriptive of our relationship to God, but also describes very positive human relationships.
Consider three New Testament forms:

Verb – “pisteuo” means to believe in something, or someone; to be convinced of something, to give credence; to have confidence, to trust, to entrust, to rely on someone.

Noun – “pistis” means faith, trust, that which causes trust and faith–such as a promise or pledge; trust, faith, confidence in–such as the Lord’s help in distress (see the following biblical verse), a persuasion or conviction, that something is true. Matthew 8:10 records Jesus’ response to “trust”:

When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” (NIV)

Adjective – “pistos” means trustworthy, faithful, dependable, inspiring trust, worthy of trust, reliable.

Glossary– Trust, trustworthiness (abstracted from Zondervan Commentary)

The words dealt with here [in this article] are basically concerned with that personal relationship with a person or thing which is established by trust and trustworthiness (including their negation). If this relationship comes about through persuasion or conviction, the vb. peithomai is used. The perfect tense pepoitha expresses the firm conviction and confidence that has come about. The words of the pistis group are derived from the same verbal stem. They denoted originally the faithful relationship
of partners in an agreement and the trustworthiness of their promises. In a broader sense they came to denote the credibility of statements, reports and accounts in general, both sacred and secular. In NT Greek. they gained a special importance and specific content through their application to the relationship with God in Christ: the trusting acceptance and recognition of what God has done and promised in him.

How do you respond to this summary of the biblical understanding of trust and trustworthy?

  • Belief in, reliance on the ability and intention of another.
  • Trusting in, reliance on something to happen in the future.
  • Hopeful anticipation, resting of the mind.

Contemporary Uses, Similar to Biblical: Don’t be too surprised! In today’s “real life” and leadership, we use the word “trust” and its related terms often in the same way as they are used by biblical writers. Let’s look at some of the definitions right out of the dictionaries. Trust means:

  • Reliance, hope, confidence
  • Assured reliance on the character, strength or truth of someone
  • A basis for reliance, faith, hope or confidence
  • Something entrusted to one to be cared for in the interest of another
  • Reliance on the ability and intention of another
  • Trusting in, reliance on something to happen in the future
  • Hopeful anticipation, resting of the mind

3. Connect Your Trust-Building to Servant Leadership

If it is true that “leadership is a relationship,” and that the foundation of relationship is trust, then it is an essential responsibility of the first order that leaders be trust-builders from the ground up–or better still, “from the heart out!” The figure as a pyramid shows the structure of trust-building as it relates to Christian ministry. Even if you choose a more flexible symbol, consider the following relationship of trust-building to servant leadership:


  • Christian ministry: At the very foundation, and by His own initiative, God calls each one of us to a redeemed relationship and to roles of ministry–as pastors, staff ministers, and lay ministers. We respond to His callings.
  • Servant leadership: As self-giving service after the pattern of Jesus Christ, it is our best expression in roles and functions of Christian ministry.
  • Healthy relationships: This is absolutely essential to pursuing servant leadership–in fact, our thesis is that leadership is a relationship.
  • Trustworthiness: This is reliability, dependability of life and ministry, and is one of the most critical elements of healthy relationships in Christian ministry.
  • Trust-building: At the top of the pyramid and as a crucial and intentional work, trust-building is the critical leadership essential for anyone in Christian ministry.

Your Reflection on Trust and Servant Leadership: Before we go any further in the study, put your mind around trust-building as a servant leader; respond to one or all of these trust concepts in the pyramid–add your own.

  • How would you describe these concepts and their interrelationships?
  • What ideas, perhaps your own symbol, would you add?
  • Have you asked questions that you want to fit into the picture?
  • How is trust developed and maintained?
  • What role does trust have in church relationships?
  • Who is responsible for building trust?
  • What are the lasting benefits of trust?
  • Where does an understanding of trust begin?

4. Learn from Contemporary Leaders on Trust-Building

Trust-Building, Essential and Beneficial: Contemporary authorities on leadership include in their treatment of leadership, explicit benefits of mutual trust in the human enterprise. These examples could also be adapted and applied to the life and performance of congregations:

  • Trust Provides Motivation: “But when leaders give and expect trust, the organization reaps undreamed-of benefits. Trust may be the most motivating force in organizations. Trust is clearly the basis for covenantal relationships, which are far more productive than contractual ones.” (Max DePree in Focus, p. 92)
  • Trust Increases Cohesion: “Trust holds people together, deepening their belief that all will do their utmost to fulfill their responsibilities. Trust means that people have confidence that they can rely on each other (see pp 123-124). Leaders sense that many factors determine trust. Two durable factors are 1) personality, deeply rooted in early experiences, and . . . 2) training, providing specialized slants and skills” (see pp. 106-108). –Zand, The Leadership Triad
  • Trust Stimulates Productivity: “Trust stimulates productivity because it gives people confidence that they can depend on each other to define and achieve appropriate goals. . . . Trust also encourages people to think of productivity in terms of the satisfaction they get from being productive, the joy of working together, and the exhilaration of being creative.” (Zand, The Leadership Triad, pp.124-125)

The Leadership Challenge on Building Trust: In their chapter on “fostering collaboration” (see pp. 146-152), Kouzes and Posner describe several aspects related to building trusting relationships; selected concepts from their research are only summarized here:

  • Trust is the central issue in human relationships both within and outside the organization. Trust is an essential element of the organizational effectiveness as well.
  • Trust exists when we make ourselves vulnerable to others whose subsequent behavior we cannot control. By trusting another person, we become dependent upon that person.
  • When people do not trust each other, they will ignore, disguise, and distort facts, ideas, conclusions and feelings; they are suspicious and unreceptive.
  • Trust is at the heart of fostering collaboration. Leaders who build trusting relationships within their team feel comfortable with the group.
  • The high truster says, “I will trust this person until I have clear evidence that he or she cannot be trusted.” The low truster
    says, “I will not trust this person until there is clear evidence that he or she can be trusted.”
  • To deepen a relationship requires someone to take the initiative in trusting another person: going first is a statement of trust commitment.
  • The foundation of a trusting relationship is believing that the other person has integrity. This is demonstrated by meeting commitments and keeping promises.
  • Building trust is sensitivity to people’s needs and interests; avoiding secret meetings and closed-door sessions is essential.

Learning to Lead on Leaders Building Trust: Warren Bennis and Joan Goldsmith examine in a chapter on “Maintaining Trust through Integrity” (see pp. 120-121) four qualities or characteristics of leadership which, when practiced, engender trust:

  • Vision: The leader has a vision for the organization that is clear, attractive, and attainable. We tend to trust leaders who create inspiring visions.
  • Empathy: The leader has unconditional empathy for those who live in the organization. We tend to trust leaders who can walk in our shoes.
  • Consistency: The leader’s positions are consistent. We tend to trust leaders when we know where they stand in relation to the organization.
  • Integrity: The leader’s integrity is unquestionable. We tend to trust leaders who stand for a higher moral order and who demonstrate their ethical commitments through actions that we can observe.

5. Study and Apply Ten Practices for Trust-Building

We have identified and are presenting ten characteristics and practices of leadership trust and trust-building based on biblical, psychological, leadership, and relational understandings. The ten practices (see SL#73SL#86) are the core of this series. Each article will explore both descriptions of trust-building and actions you may take.

The Leadership Essential- An Overview

Living the Self-Examined Life

Reaching Out with Others

Bridges for Trust-Building

The Leader’s Credibility Test

Counting on Leaders to Be Leaders

SL#79–Competency: Preparedness for Leadership Tasks
SL#80–Encouragement: Empowering Team Members
SL#81–Vision: Inspiration for Achieving Together
SL#82–Responsibility: Leaders Work at Their Job
SL#83–Rebuilding Trust: Leaders Begin Again, and Again
One Resources:
Leaders Build Trust Within

Two Resources:
Leaders Build Trust in the

Three Resources:
Leaders Consistently Practice

My Summary of Trust-Building:

  • Be trustworthy in all your handling of the message of God’s love in Christ.
  • 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 others.
  • Expect trustworthiness to breed trust.

6. Develop Your Own Self-Directed Plan for Trust-Building

During the past 55 years of service inside of congregations and other Christian institutions, I have had my own ups and downs in ministry roles. For 22 years I served as a pastor, and 33 years as a minister-at-large, as an executive, educator, professor, and consultant. In these recent years, my joy has been to serve as a lay member in numerous volunteer congregational roles. My observations of other congregational relationships agree with my own firsthand experiences, that we need as Christian believers to be very intentional and skilled at building trust within the life and work of congregations and other Christian organizations. And we need a plan to do so. Let’s give it an initial effort.

  • First, Reflection: After reviewing the topic of trust-building so far, record some of your own key ideas about trust; especially, how you practice trust in your life and leadership.
  • Second, Identification: Although leadership research has found over 200 ingredients of “trust,” this article has assumed a less comprehensive, and hopefully more beneficial task–how to identify major ingredients in the Christian leadership task of trust-building–and how to put those into consistent practice. “Trust-Building” seeks not only to identify ten characteristics of interpersonal trust and trust-building but also to provide you with a practical format for helping with congregational assessment and action planning.
  • Third, Assessment: “What is your trust level?” Work through the several articles on trust-building characteristics and assess your current level of strength or behavior in each attribute (you could also have someone else provide their assessment of your trust level). Make a similar
    assessment of the life of your congregation. Be as objective as you can in scoring your trust level from 1 to 5 as follows; the lower the score, the more need there is for intentional trust-building:

    ____1 = Seldom
    ____2 = Occasionally
    ____3 = Often
    ____4 = Usually
    ____5 = Always

  • Fourth, Action Planning: “How do you plan to build trust?” Select one or more trust-building actions from each of the ten characteristics that you will work on; make notes for developing a specific action strategy. For example: identify a “real live” person or group with whom you want to develop your trust level. List specific actions you could practice that would help the most; do this for each of the 10 characteristics.
    Let me conclude as the article began with a core of five trust-building leadership tasks:

    • As a servant leader, prove yourself trustworthy in word and deed; it begins with you.
    • Consistently trust others in the congregation, and genuinely care for them.
    • Win trust from others day-by-day, in every way, over and over again.
    • Intentionally nurture a “trust climate” within, and for the congregation.
    • Through trusting relationships, move together toward mutual mission achievement.
  • The Need and Challenge: Kouzes and Posner get it right in affirming that there is much work to be done on the crumbling foundation of the relationship between leaders and constituents:

    “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.” from Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why people Demand It, p. 2

Trust-Building Bibliography: Click here for specific, selected resources on trust-building; and see Articles
SL# 84, #85

and #86.
For other general resource items, see Bibliography/Links.

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© 2007; hosted and copyrighted by Lloyd Elder & Associates, Inc.
For full citation of referenced works, see Bibliography/Links at
Adapted by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., Founding Director, Moench Center for Church Leadership