5 Keys to Building Relational Trust

Leadership is about building relationships, and the key to a good relationship is trust. This is true in any relationship – family, friendship, organizational leadership, etc.

In the middle of this interview, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn quickly summarizes fives keys to building relational trust. You can see the keys below, along with a brief comment about what each one looks like.

Keys to building relational trust:
  1. Integrity: do the right thing, even when it costs you.
  2. Compassion: make sure people know you care.
  3. Competence: get the right job done in the right way.
  4. Consistency: strive to live predictably according to your values.
  5. Empathy: take time to listen and understand both sides.
“If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend.”
-Abraham Lincoln

Looking for Margin

Margin is the space to rest, to recharge, to enjoy life with those we love … space to decompress and breathe.

As I get older, the pace of life seems to pick up more and more. Occasionally, I’ll hear someone (often a teenager) comment, “I’m bored.” I honestly can’t remember being bored—other than perhaps occasionally during a class lecture that was particularly tedious. But as far as looking for something to stimulate my mind when I had some “free” time? I just can’t remember that happening.

Life seems to bring a different problem my way—the need for breathing room. You might call this looking for margin. There was a time in my adult life when it was just me … then just me and my wife … then me and my wife and a kid … and then me and my wife and two kids … But I don’t think that margin is about the number of people involved in my life (though increased relationships and responsibility do affect margin).

Every person has the same number of hours in a day and in a week. My days and hours fill up, whether I fill them up or not. So … I’m learning that the only way to have margin is to create margin intentionally, by making sure that there is time for the most important things in life: my relationship with God and local church, my relationships with my wife and kids, and my relationships with friends and other family.

Life will run away with you if you let it; sometimes it even runs over you! Take intentional steps to create margin in your life—for worship, for rest … and yes, even for fun. God designed us to live life with rhythm and margin, and it takes discipline to create margin for the most important things. If you don’t live life with intentionality, you’ll look at your hectic schedule one day and realize that life is out of control.

My fear in life isn’t that I won’t get anything done. It’s that I’ll spend my life doing things that don’t matter or doing things that don’t matter the most.

The Beauty of Criticism

Do you hate criticism? I guess a better question is, who doesn’t hate criticism? In his book Tribes, Seth Godin notes that fear of failure could often be more aptly titled fear of criticism. We fear being criticized so much that we don’t even make an attempt.

But criticism can be a good thing. Criticism can come from soul-sucking negativists who don’t care a bit about you. But criticism can also come (and should come) from trusted advisors, good friends, and people that love you. Feedback, even when it’s difficult to receive, makes you stronger and wiser. Every person has blind spots and needs to hear about them.

As Godin notes, even criticism from negativists has an upside—it means you are doing something worth taking note of. If you are boring and completely unremarkable, critics won’t consider you worth their time. So, don’t have a pity party or be debilitated by criticism. Listen to it; learn from it; move on.

Good criticism can foster a culture of constant improvement, of building on good things that can become great things. Good criticism can give you courage to attempt something more audacious and awesome that you’d have ever attempted without it. 

So listen to your critics … but not too much … and let the feedback motivate you, teach you, and strengthen you. You’ll be glad you did.

Trust Works! Distrust Kills.

But does it really? How do you measure and build trust?

Ken Blanchard is famous for his series of One Minute Manager books, which have sold over 15 million copies in 25 languages. His recent book, Trust Works! Four Keys to Building Lasting Relationships outlines four key areas of trust for leaders. This post isn’t a discussion of his book so much as it is a reflection on his four categories of trust.

1. Ability

“Ability” = competence: can you actually do the job you’ve been asked to do? can you admit it when you can’t?

Problem areas could sound like:

  • “I can do this; no problem!” (When deep down you know you can’t do it well.)
  • “When you’ve had my experience, you’ll understand. This is a highly specialized project that only a select few can even begin to comprehend.” (An attempt to complicate an uncomplicated issue to impress people to the point where they won’t ask hard questions [kind of like when the emperor got his “new clothes”].)

Have you ever been around a leader who was incompetent but was blind to or refused to acknowledge his incompetence? As a leader, if you suspect you’re in over your head, it’s better to admit it and ask for help. This kind of humility builds trust. Feigning competence, when you’re incompetent, erodes trust.

2. Believability

“Believability” = integrity: do you walk your talk?

Problem areas could sound like:

  • “You’re the best at __. I’ve never met someone so good at what you do.” (Flattery, instead of honest feedback.)
  • “I’m going to ___.” (Blustering promises, instead of an outlook based on reality.)
  • “I think you’ve got a great idea,” or “That idea is worth some thought.” (When you really think the idea is a bad one or a threatening one.)

Have you ever spent much time around someone who spoke one way and acted another? Or perhaps spoke one way to you when you were present and another about you when you when you were absent? This kind of leader may also shy away from critical feedback—even when it’s true and helpful. Faithful communicationeven when it’s difficultbuilds trust. Duplicity erodes trust.

3. Connectedness

“Connectedness” = relationships: do you connect to people?

Problem areas could sound like:

  • “I’m sorry; my schedule is slammed.” (When the real reason is, “I don’t want to take the time.”)
  • “Call me, and we’ll work out a time to get together” (When the tactic is, “If I delay long enough, this will go away.”)
  • “I really value your feedback; please come talk to me” (When the endgame is, “I’ll intimidate you into accepting my point of view.”)

When people connect to a leader, they tend to trust him/her. When a leader struggles to connect relationally or handles insecurity by resorting to intimidation, people will tend to mistrusteven if the leader is competent. If a leader struggles with ability and believability, his difficulty with connectedness will be greatly exacerbated. Caring about people and making time for them builds trust. Feigning concern for people while failing to make time for them erodes trust.

4. Dependability

“Dependability” = reliability: can I count on your word?

Problem areas could sound like:

  • “Yes, I can do that.” (When you can’t make it happen or don’t have a plan to make it happen.)
  • “When we initiate this new program, nothing will really change. If you like the way things were, your world will stay the same.” (When you might be making a promise that you can’t guarantee.)

Do you know any leaders who make promises they can’t really guarantee? Ever spent time around someone who tells you what you want to hear, only to fail in follow-through time after time? When a leader straightforwardly commits to only what he can actually follow through on, this builds trust. When a leader makes promises and commitments that are outside of his control, this erodes trust.


The most dangerous thing about trust and distrust is that they can sound so much alike. When a leader breaks trust, his every word becomes questioned. Unfulfilled promises are reasons people can’t trust the promises of tomorrow. Speaking kind words to a person’s face and cutting words behind his/her back become reasons to question every kind word.

Trust works! Distrust kills. As my dad often used to say, “It takes a lifetime to build a reputation and only a moment to lose one.” The same is true of trust. Leader, if you’re trustworthy 75% of the time, eventually people will distrust you 100%! Be one person. Be true. Commit to the truth … even when it’s difficult.


Comfort and Confrontation

“So what do you do all week, anyway?”

If you're a pastor, you've probably heard that question more than once. Some people have the idea that pastors enjoy a six-day weekend, with one day of work on Sunday. Others picture them as spending all day every day reading and studying. Others might have the idea that a pastor meets people, drinks coffee, listens, and talks–almost like a psychologist with a spiritual twist.

Pastoral work might be summarized as “leading and feeding.” Or as shepherding. Or as overseeing. Or as preaching and teaching. A good pastor does all of these things. However you articulate the overall function of a pastor, one of the main areas of any pastor's job is member care–spiritually caring for the souls of the people God has brought to his local church.

What does member care look like? There's a sense in which you can sum it up in these two words: comfort and confrontation. Here's a glimpse into some experiences in a week of member care (none of these are recent, so any similarity to you is a coincidence!!):


  • Praying for members: pastors gathering to pray for each church member by name, systematically and alphabetically; praying specifically and repeatedly for members that are hurting, wandering, or flagrantly sinning.
  • Visiting the family of a church member whose loved one is dying in their home; praying with the family and just being there during the last hours of a beloved saint's life.
  • Calling a church member who is out of state for the funeral of an adult child; encouraging him and letting him know that we love him, are praying for him, and are rallying around him during these difficult days.
  • Meeting for prayer and fellowship with a brother who is earnestly seeking to lead and shepherd his family; praising the Lord for His faithfulness to this brother.
  • Encouraging a father whose child has rejected the Lord and seeking to counsel him about how to evangelize this child who is still at home.


  • Counseling individuals experiencing significant struggles in their home; confronting sin as it comes to light and calling these brothers and sisters to repentance and to living in light of the gospel.
  • Confronting a brother who is admittedly struggling to lead at home; encouraging him to fulfill his God-given roles and responsibilities; and exhorting him to believe that God has empowered him for this ministry.

Comfort and confrontation involve much more than this, but for the pastor, there is great joy in the process of leading and feeding church members and seeing them grow to be more like Jesus.


Christian Celebrity & First Impressions (Part 1)

I have a natural distaste for anything that even remotely smells like celebrity. I've been at conferences where the stage was crowded with people eager to meet the speaker/singer/etc. Generally speaking, I avoid such things like the plague.

Over the last few years, I've seen a good number of articles about Christian celebrity. Authors (who are often Christian “celebrities” themselves) typically take one of two tacts: (1) Christian celebrity is terrible, and we should get over it; (2) Christian celebrity is inevitable, so we should embrace it and leverage it.

While I have no desire to make a judgment about Christian celebrity in general, I recently had two experiences that were instructive. Earlier this month, I “ran into” two brothers (both pastors) in Christ who are–more or less–Christian celebrities. Reflecting on these two (separate) meetings has given me some thoughts on what Christian celebrities are and are not.

Meeting 1:

After an introduction from a mutual friend, this brother greeted me warmly and acted grateful to meet me (though he didn't know me from Adam and had no reason to). After a brief conversation and an offer to buy me coffee (we were in Starbucks), he moved on. My impression of this brother: he was a kind, godly man who genuinely cares about people. Very positive.

Meeting 2:

Upon my saying hello, I had the distinct impression that this brother could not wait to be done with his conversation with me. I thanked him for his ministry to me and many other pastors. My impression of this brother: he was dismissive and disinterested. Quite negative.


While acknowledging that the second brother may have been (and probably was) merely having a bad day, I realized that our impression of people is often formed really quickly. I have profited from both of these pastors from a distance and will continue to do so. They are merely humans like the rest of us.

I'm sure that there are people who have met me (a non-celebrity by any measure!) and have thought I was pretty nice. They probably left with a very positive impression. I'm sure others have met me at a time when I was in a hurry or when I was mentally in another world and had a very negative impression. We have opportunities to make first impressions regularly, and we have only one chance to do so. I pray that God gives me the grace and alertness to be where I am, to talk with the person right there in front of me. In a day of increasing digital distraction, I find myself more and more tempted to mentally be somewhere else.

One pastor who impacted my life when I was younger often said the following: “Be where you are.” Great counsel.

In part 2, we'll consider some implications for churches in light of what I learned from these two meetings.


Innovative Leadership: Old Dogs, New Tricks (Part 2)

What are some ways that old dogs can learn new tricks?

  1. Run with the end in view. The end goal is a vision of where you're headed. Don't run to nowhere. Your end goal may change as you change and as the process evolves. But give yourself a picture that will motivate you to run when you feel like giving up!
  2. Make a plan. This is different than having the end goal in view. A plan helps you reach your goal. Many people fly through life from one thing to the next without ever pausing long enough to plan the next step. Making a plan (even a poor plan) is better than not planning at all!
  3. Ask for feedback. Inform someone else of your goal and your plan, and ask for feedback. Invite regular criticism to help strengthen your areas of weakness. When you receive the criticism, listen. Learn. Live. Listen. Learn. Live. Listen. Learn. Live. You get the idea. (It will help if this person is someone you trust highly.)
  4. Be prepared to get back up. Yes, you will fail. Be prepared to pick yourself up, wipe off your scrapes and bruises, and keep on moving. Don't let small setbacks equal categorical failure!
  5. Enjoy yourself. No, this isn't about having “fun” like watching cartoons. It's about having “fun” like a hard workout that really hurts but feels really good afterward. Let the exercise of improving yourself and improving your leadership be an enjoyable process.
  6. Finally, make sure the shoe fits. If you hate what you're doing, then it really may be time to look somewhere else and learn some other new tricks. You might even need a whole new bag.

See part one of this post.

Innovative Leadership: Old Dogs, New Tricks (Part 1)

A couple of months ago I watched my two year-old daughter attempt to put a puzzle together. She was rather clumsy and therefore rather frustrated. She couldn't make the pieces fit in the right spot, and would cry, “Can't do it! Can't do it!” A few days ago, I saw the very same two year-old blaze through several different puzzles in record time. She loves puzzles!

Do you ever feel locked into doing something that you aren't particularly good at and that you don't particularly enjoy? Or … maybe worse … Do you ever wish you could be good at something but have failed so many times that you just want to give up?

Perhaps you've responded to failed attempts by concluding that it's just not worth trying, that you are the way you are and that you just won't change. After all, you know the saying: “You can't teach an old dog new tricks.”

Well, my friend, there is an important difference between you and the “old dog.” You can choose to change. You really can! Sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking, “That's just who I am and how I operate.” Of course, the only way anyone can ultimately change is by experiencing the life-changing grace of the gospel. But what about smaller changes, like changing what time I get up or how much I read or how much I eat or how much money I spend?

I'm not speaking to things that are beyond human limits or beyond the scope of your gifting. We all have God-given limits. Many times, though, we fall short because we aren't willing to expend the time and effort required to change. Don't succumb to believing that you are the way you are and that you can't change. Innovative improvement is often the result of slow, painful effort. Kind of like getting in shape. It's not rocket science, but it takes more effort than most of us are willing to expend.

If you need to develop new habits and new disciplines as a leader–at home, work, church, wherever–start with baby steps. And be prepared to dig in for the long haul. Old dogs can learn new tricks. It just takes time.

We'll consider some strategies for learning new tricks in part two.

“My Friend”

Have you noticed the prevalence of “my friend” of late? It seems that everyone is friends these days. Whether it's online, at a conference, or over a conversation, the greatest commendation someone can have is that they are “my friend.”

Tweets introduce an article as written by “my friend.” Emcees introduce speakers as “my friend.” Friends tell other friends about “my friend.” What does this mean? What does it mean for someone to be friends? Friends on Facebook? Friends who went to school together? People who are of approximately the same fame or social status and thus qualify as friends?

Talk of friendship, apart from true friendship, cheapens friendship. In an age where relationships proliferate and grow in breadth, while cheapening in depth, let's not forget these marks of true friendship:

  • Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. (Exod 33:11)
  • A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. (Prov 17:17)
  • A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Prov 18:24)
  • Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. (Prov 27:6)

“Face to face.” “At all times.” “Sticks closer than a brother.” “Faithful wounds.” This is true friendship. Feel free to introduce people as your friend. But make sure they're truly a friend. A friend that loves at all times, like a brother, that is close enough to wound you and you know that he's doing it because he loves you. Job had “friends” too (yes, that's what the Bible calls them…), but they weren't this kind of friend.

Otherwise, our friends in a day of cheapening friendship may feel more like this: “Wealth brings many new friends, but a poor man is deserted by his friend” (Prov 19:4).

“My friend.” It's not a job qualification, and it's not something you should say about everyone. Don't cheapen the word for your true friends by using it for those who aren't.

Yes, I know I'm stirring the pot. 🙂

Your friend,