I just finished reading a chapter in my favourite book on leadership. I am reading through it for my fifth time because every time that I read it, I learn something new. The book is Dr. Henry Cloud’s Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality. The chapter this morning is entitled “Building Trust Through Vulnerability” and I am going to begin with a rather long quote from what he says.
Before I share the quote though I want to say that from my own experience trust may be the most important element in the relationship between a leader in a small church and the people under his leadership. If a strong sense of trust is there, people will follow his leadership. If there is no trust there, people will oppose most things that he tries to do. Why would people follow a leader whom they don’t trust.
I may write a blog at some point in the future on the subject of how we get that trust but this morning I want to expand on something that Cloud says. So here is the quote.
“For trust to work, there is a tricky power component. Think about it for a second. How much do you trust someone who is powerless? A wimp? Incompetent? Maybe you trust these people not to lie to you, but what aspects of your life would you “entrust” to them for safekeeping? Or to make better for you? When you buy insurance, for example, you don’t get it from a kiosk at the flea market. You get it from one of those really tall buildings that looks as if it has been there awhile and isn’t going anywhere. You want it from the “Rock,” or some other symbol of strength and stability. Trust has a requirement of strength and power. Kids, for example, feel secure with a strong parent, and lost without one. Couples stay in love when their partner is strong enough to respect and depend on.
“But, on the other side, if people are so strong that they are impenetrable in some way, or even so much stronger than we are, there is too much of a gap to bridge between the hearts. We can’t identify with them enough to think that they will understand us. They are too much “unlike” us for us to trust them, so we hold back and instead talk to people who do not seem to be so “otherworldly” that they can’t relate to us humans. For trust to work in human relationships of any kind, whether leadership, marriage, parenting, or business, we have to be able to some kind of crack in the armour so we feel that the other person is real. We might fear someone of great power or even admire him, but trust is another issue. In this way, therefore, we see a tension in the dynamic of power and trust.” pp. 87, 88
Places in which you don’t want to live
I agree with Cloud that leaders need to lead. One of the pressures of being a pastor is that you are constantly making decisions and church members want to know that the person providing leadership not only can make those decisions but can make the decision that will be best for the church.
The story is told of a person who was stepping into the position of president in a company following the retirement of a person whom everyone loved and respected. He asked the older person what was the secret to her success. She answered that it was making wise decisions. He asked her how she made wise decisions. Her answer was that she did it through experience. He then asked her how she got that experience. Her reply was that she gained experience through making bad decisions.
We all recognize the truth in that story. Every leader makes her share of bad decisions but the secret is always to learn from the mistakes that we make. Even at the risk of making bad decisions, leaders need to lead and decisions need to be made. Leaders who live in a world of hesitation and procrastination will never earn the trust of their people.
On the other hand a pedestal is a very dangerous place in which to live. People need to know that their leaders make mistakes. They need to hear something about the struggles and failures of the pastor because as Cloud says: People may admire that person on the pedestal but they will rarely open up to him and share their problems.
I have three amazing children whom I love deeply and thank God for constantly. I loved raising them. I loved their hugs when they were small. I loved our conversations when they were in their teens and could hold their own in a discussion. I loved watching them blossom as young adults. I would not have missed one second of the experience of being a father.
But there were times when they frustrated me. There are many times when I would love to be able to go back and correct some of the mistakes that I made. There were times when they made decisions that I wish that they hadn’t made. I was far from a perfect parent. During my years of ministry I have shared some of those stories of failure on my part and have discovered that I have had many conversations with parents who are struggling with some aspect of raising their children, parents who would probably never have opened up to a parent who did everything perfect.
People are not looking for wishy washy leadership. They want leaders to lead but on the other hand they are looking for leaders who aren’t perfect, who are willing to share the mistakes that they have made. That is a challenging balance to achieve but if we are going to serve in an atmosphere of trust it is a balance that we need to reach.