Leadership 14: Trust them to realize that potential

A Leadership Cue Card: Trust them to realize that potential

They stood on a Galilean mountainside. Eleven disciples and Jesus. Mark tells us that in the last few days, Jesus had rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart because they did not believe those who saw Him after the resurrection (Mark 16:15). Matthew tells us when they saw Him on the mountain, they worshiped, but some doubted (Matt 28:17). Luke says they were eager to know if this was the time He would restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6)

None of the writers tell us directly what Jesus thought at that moment. If it were me, I would probably be shaking my head and asking myself, “What was I thinking? Father, are you sure? These ragamuffin, doubting, betraying, still rough around the edges men? Can I trust them?”

Then He spoke. We know what He said. “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:15-16 (HCSB) He was taken into heaven before them.

He trusted them. Jesus trusted the disciples with His continued mission to redeem all of creation.

It was not misplaced.

Where are we in our leadership cue card?

Compelled by love, I will empty myself of self and live for the benefit of others. I want to see who they can become in Christ and trust them to realize that potential…

It is a matter of trust.

James Kouzes and Barry Pozner in the book The Leadership Challenge, say trust is “the central issue in human relationships.” Leaders who build trusting relationships are willing to consider alternative viewpoints and to make use of other people’s expertise and abilities. On the other hand, managers in a distrustful environment often take on a self-protective posture, are directive and hold tight the reins of power.

Leaders who trust followers to live up to their potential begin with a simple premise that people basically want to do the right thing. When people do not live up to those expectations, it is often because they do not have capacity, the competency, or it is a character issue.

When people do not have capacity in their schedule, they do not necessarily do the wrong thing as much as they do nothing. The servant leader’s response is to help them create capacity or manage their schedule for them. The former is more helpful than the latter. When a follower lacks the competency, the leader can offer training or can take the work back. Again, the former is more helpful than the latter. If the follower refuses to do the right thing because of a character issue, the remedy is a hard, but necessary conversation.

Unfortunately, the less than helpful approach many leaders take is to micromanage their followers when they fail to do the right thing. Micromanagers resist delegating, immerse themselves in oversight, take back delegated work before it is finished or if they find a mistake and discourage others from making decisions without consultation. This approach does not build trust; rather it destroys it and leads to animosity, anxiety and frustration.

If leaders begin with the premise that followers basically want to do the right thing, they can diagnose the root issue – most often capacity, competency or character – and help followers live up to their potential by creating room to grow in their capacity, training to improve competency or coaching them to strengthen their moral character.

Nehemiah trusted the exiles in Jerusalem to live up to their potential. Nehemiah chapters 3 and 4 give an account of the actual rebuilding of the wall. Nehemiah could not be everywhere and he could not do all the work. So he developed a plan, delegated the work (according to the capacity and competency of the people) and trusted its implementation.

In Nehemiah chapter 7, he tells us

When the wall had been rebuilt and I had the doors installed, the gatekeepers, singers, and Levites were appointed. Then I put my brother Hanani in charge of Jerusalem, along with Hananiah, commander of the fortress, because he was a faithful man who feared God more than most. Nehemiah 7:1-2 (HCSB)

Nehemiah left these in charge and returned to Babylon. When he returned, however, Nehemiah learned that some the people he had left in charge had failed. As a result, he instituted reforms that helped restore trust. In some cases, he had to replace people with others. What was the guideline he used to select these replacements?

I appointed as treasurers over the storehouses Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and Pedaiah of the Levites, with Hanan son of Zaccur, son of Mattaniah to assist them, because they were considered trustworthy. They were responsible for the distribution to their colleagues. Nehemiah 13:13 (HCSB)

Sometimes followers do not live up to expectations. They may be overworked or undertrained. In some cases, they must be removed from their position. A wise servant leader responds not by micromanaging but by serving.


For reflection: Do you expect the best out of people? Are you a micromanager? Are you worthy of trust?

For memorization: … they were considered trustworthy. They were responsible…    Nehemiah 13:13

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