Photo is Public Domain from Wikimedia Commons
The story is told of funambulist Charles Blondin crossing the Niagara Falls on a tight rope and then asking the cheering crowds whether they trusted him. “Yes,” they cried. He then grabbed a wheelbarrow and wheeled it out onto the cable that was stretched over the raging waters and again asked the cheering crowd, “Do you trust me to push this wheel barrow across the falls?” The crowd again erupted into cheers of confidence in their hero. But then cheering came to an abrupt halt; no sound could be heard other than the falls below: Blondin had just asked the crowd, “Who will be the first to climb in the wheel barrow?”
Trust is about having faith in the process; it means you don’t feel compelled to force things to happen. You believe in a reasonable universe, one in which you can predict outcomes (at least at some level) when you have created a propitious environment. On a personal level, it means you believe that people are trustworthy; they are worthy of trust and will usually prove themselves worthy of your trust when given half a chance.
It is based first on a certain perspective about human nature and second on one’s belief in a controlling power that is above human nature, a personal force that holds all things together. Trust is founded in the belief that the universe is not just a mass of chaos and chance; it has purpose, meaning, and direction. This confidence in a higher governing order–trust at the macro level–enables the leader to exercise trust at the micro level as happens when he trusts his employees to do the right thing when given the freedom to do so.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews defined trust as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Trust is not a vague form of wishful thinking; it is assurance or conviction or certainty about something that is not yet a reality.
If your goal is to develop the capacity of your organization and its people, then trust is essential; you have to believe that efforts that appear to produce little effect today will have their effect tomorrow. If you are not certain of this, the demand for immediate results will drive you and, as a result, you will grab onto the old familiar system of command and control to push for the results you want.
When leaders get panicky, they often revert to dependence on positional power. This may take the form of calling rank, making threats, raising your volume, or even, in extreme cases, physical violence.
While leading a short-term missionary project to Aguaray, Argentina, our team experienced torrential rains that washed out the bridges both to the north and to the south of the town. We were trapped. In the face of a situation where we literally did not have control, normally gentle people became pushy, voices were raised, and accusations made. Then, all went back to normal, once we found a way across the river and were on the return flight to Miami. Trust was high as long as things were going smoothly, but it dropped several degrees when circumstances made us feel like we had no control over our situation.
All of us have stood at both ends of the trust continuum: the side of betrayal and the side of reinforcement. We have experienced betrayal when people have taken advantage of our trust to deceive and defraud us. We have experienced reinforcement when people have responded to our trust with trustworthiness far beyond our expectations. As an example of the former, I had a close friend cheat me out of money that was supposed to be used to pay my mortgage, destroying my credit and almost forcing the foreclosure of my property. On the reinforcement side, I had the amazing experience of mentoring a man I hardly knew and today his church is one of our most successful in Argentina.
If we would allow the negative experiences to affect our choice, we could easily develop a pessimistic perspective of humanity and never trust again. This is the state of bitterness that poisons many people’s efforts at leadership, causing them to crash after a few bad experiences (Hebrews 12:15). The better choice both for your own health and for the health of your organization is to choose trust as your main approach to life and business.
What do you think? Have you had your trust violated? How did you respond? How does one recover from that without allowing bitterness to take over?