Over the past few weeks, we’ve looked at three ways a leader can build trust–relationship, success, and personal transformation. While one of these three must take place in significant ways before a leader can lead change, there’s one more that can “seal the deal” either in favor of trust or compromise it completely.
The final means for building trust is to act with integrity. When people see that a leader will always do what is right, they begin to trust that leader with what is right for them.
Someone has defined integrity as “what you do when no one is looking.” It’s the idea of what you’re really like when you’re not performing for others. That presents an interesting opportunity for pastors since they are almost always “on.” Their 24-7 life as a shepherd seldom lets them take the pastor hat off.
A pastor can establish his public persona through his wise words, penetrating insights, and the understanding demeanor with which he preaches. People easily say that “he’s just a really good guy.” He shows up when we’re in crisis. He speaks kind words at our grandmother’s funeral. He stands at the church door, always smiling, always listening, always affirming. He speaks knowledgeably about the godly husband when he teaches on marriage and more than a few wish their husband was more like him. He’s a great guy!
But in the private places of his life, the photos may not always match. If people see him yell at his children, become frustrated with his wife, or offer a small fib or two when negotiating a good price with a salesman, the photo of the pastor they think they know gets a bit smudged. And, trust becomes a bit damaged.
I remember attending a conference where an elderly leader held us spellbound for more than an hour as he unfolded the challenges of reaching the next generation. He spoke of younger people with such passion and potential. He called for great steps to be taken to rally his older peers toward a bright and technologically-driven future. I remember thinking “that’s the kind of leader anyone would want to follow. The people who work in his organization have to be excited to have such a leader as this.”
Then I went to the hotel restaurant for a late dinner. There, at a corner table, sat the amazing leader, hidden behind the tall menu he was perusing. I chose a booth, not too far away so the waitress wouldn’t have to walk too far to serve us. The speaker and I were the only customers in the restaurant at that late hour. In a few moments, I was hiding behind my own menu.
When our food was delivered—his before mine since he got a head start on the menu—the speaker’s order was apparently assembled incorrectly. The vegetable was wrong, promised sauces were missing, and there was no butter for his bread. I knew each of these errors because he screamed them at the poor girl who had brought his plate. I sat stunned as he berated her for someone else’s negligence. I couldn’t believe that the man who had seemed so wise, so kind, and so in touch with today’s young people two hours earlier could abuse one such young person only a stone’s throw from the podium where he was so remarkable. Even as I write this, I realize that I remember his behavior in the restaurant, but can’t recall any of the incredible content of his evening message. I’ve apparently lost the notes I took too.
When the message matches the man (or woman), trust grows. A pastor who cuts corners, takes advantage of others, or seeks things for himself undermines such growth. But one who proves to be real, who acts honestly in every transaction, who treats people up close with his same “pulpit-kindness,” and insists on doing what is right even when that truth proves costly—that’s the pastor that will gain our trust.
If our pastor can be trusted in the little things, we will more quickly trust him with the big things. And, if he turns out to be that other guy, we may never learn to trust him at all.
Now, no pastor is perfect and most people try hard to provide him with a little grace to cover an occasional difficult moment. But the spotlight remains on at all times, even when you think you’re eating alone in a hotel restaurant.