How to Develop Your Most Important Asset as a Leader: Trust

You can’t lead without trust.

Stephen M. R. Covey put it this way in his book, The Speed of Trust:

“Trust is the one thing that changes everything. The lack of it can bring down governments, cripple businesses (and churches) and destroy relationships. Conversely, when cultivated it has the potential to bring unparalleled effectiveness…the ability to establish, grow, extend, and restore trust with all stakeholders is the key leadership competency of the new global economy.”

Dr. Paul Zak, the preeminent researcher on the neuroscience of trust, demonstrated two decades ago that trust is the one thing high performing cultures have in common. Whether they’re companies, cities or countries, there is a direct correlation between trust and economic well-being.

Zak goes even further to say that even in the corporate world, employees are volunteers. Just because somebody is on the payroll, doesn’t mean they’re going to bring passion and energy to what they do. That requires trust.

This is even more true in the church.

You can’t lead without trust.

Learning how to build trust is not rocket science. But understanding a bit of biology is helpful. That’s where oxytocin comes in.

Oxytocin is both a neurotransmitter that’s released in the brain and a hormone that’s released in the bloodstream. It is the molecule that enables us to bond with others. It facilitates both trust and trustworthiness.

Zak has shown in studies that people with higher levels of oxytocin are more likely to trust strangers. He’s also shown that showing trust to others increases levels of oxytocin, making them more likely to trust you.

Without oxytocin, most of our decisions would be fear-based. Sounds like the church.

So how can understanding oxytocin help us to build trust?

Let’s take the log out of our own eye first.

It’s no accident that certain practices cause the release of oxytocin:

  • Gratitude-write down something for which you are thankful every day. This is, in large part, the power of journaling.
  • Pray and meditate-give thanks to God. Pray for others. Just thinking about others, especially those you care about, increases oxytocin levels.

Oxytocin does not last long. It has a half-life of three minutes. In other words, in three minutes after its release, there’s only half as much oxytocin in our system. The important part of these practices is that the more we do them, the more the release of oxytocin becomes natural for us.

So how do we build trust?

In a word: empathy.

Zak, in his book, The Moral Molecule: How Trust Works, says, “Oxytocin generates the empathy that drives moral behavior, which inspires trust, which causes the release of more oxytocin, which creates more empathy.”

There is a virtuous cycle to building trust. When we connect with others in meaningful ways, oxytocin levels increase in both parties. Here are four things we can do as Christian leaders to build trust:

  • Listen-as Zak says, “Conversation creates a sense of community, which builds trust, which leads to oxytocin release.” When we listen more than speak, when we show that we understand what the other is saying, we are showing empathy.
  • Be generous-with your time and with yourself. When someone receives a gift their oxytocin levels rise. Giving your time and effort to help another is the best gift we can give. Every time we do something to help someone else, without asking for anything in return, we gift them a gift.
  • Choose to trust-this is hard, especially when we’ve been burned. But when we trust others, their oxytocin levels rise, making them more likely to trust us.
  • Be trustworthy-this is obvious (or maybe not). When we do what we say we’re going to do, people trust us. This causes our own oxytocin levels to rise, making it easier to trust them. The virtuous cycle.

The most important takeaway from this:

Building trust requires time.

And it’s not just the passing of time. It takes an investment of our time to really build relationships with others.

In a world of email, texting and social media*, the human touch still matters. Visits, phone calls and handwritten notes are not just niceties. They are essential elements of Christian leadership. Without them, it’s harder to lead.

That’s how God made us.

Questions for reflection:

With whom do you need to connect today?

What daily practices can you develop to build your own oxytocin levels?

What daily practices can you develop to do the same for others?

*Zak found that social media can increase oxytocin release when it makes us think of people we care about.

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3 Replies to “How to Develop Your Most Important Asset as a Leader: Trust”

  1. Best blog yet Jack ! I’ve been a fan of his father’s since the 80’s. Trust, from behaving in a culture of integrity, is everything. Love the explanation of oxytocin and realizing “everybody is a volunteer.” I once read that in this age, “all employees are free-agents; nobody works anywhere their entire work career anywhere.” Total trust, BOTH WAYS, is the only way to obtain the excellence God wants in/of us as leaders and employees/leaders. The real test is; what happens next when that trust is broken ? I’m confident that’s somewhere in your next series of blogs ! Merry Christmas and Happy 2017 !

    1. Thanks, Phil. I will put that in the hopper. How to rebuild trust. I’ve had to do it before. It’s possible, but it takes time.

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