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3 Easy Ways To Tell Who You Can Trust In Leadership

So who can you trust…I mean really trust in leadership?

You’ve trusted people you thought you could trust, only to be disappointed or get burned (sometimes badly).

You’ve decided not to trust someone, only to realize you were wrong and he or she was completely trustworthy, and you missed a great opportunity to grow your team.

The stakes are high.

Put an untrustworthy person in a position of influence, and they can do a lot of damage fast.

Misjudge trust, and you will never have the team you need to lead you into a better future.

So…is it possible to tell in advance who you can trust?

I believe you can.



3 Easy Ways to Tell Who You Can Trust In Leadership

So I imagine you’re thinking…seriously, there are easy ways to know how to trust someone?

Well, yes and no.

It’s taken me almost two decades in leadership to figure out a pattern of trust that’s accurate most of the time.

But once you learn the patterns, it’s easy to use.

Is it absolutely foolproof? No, but it’s proven to be a very reliable guide.

So with that said, here are 3 easy ways to tell who you can trust in leadership. I’ve framed it in the form of 3 questions:


1. Are they aligned?

This is the first question because it’s the question most leaders overlook. Ignore it, and it will ultimately sink your ship.

Alignment is critical in leadership. I’m going to assume your organization or church has a specific mission, vision and strategy. Almost every organization worth leading does.

Alignment ensures that your team is all pulling in the same direction.

A person may have outstanding character and a great heart, but if they are not aligned with your mission, vision and strategy, they not be an asset to your team. In fact, they’ll create conflict. When you try to steer the ship right, they will try to steer it left. When you want to move forward, they will want to move backward. And eventually, your ship might sink.

Alignment is NOT about putting ‘yes’ people in places of leadership. Quite the opposite, an aligned team will have vigorous debate about how to accomplish the mission, but you won’t have to go through the frustrating, daily debate of which mission to accomplish.

If you want more on alignment, I wrote about 5 things North Point Church has taught me about alignment here.


2. What are their friends like?

Don’t know who said it, but they were right: Show me your friends and I’ll show you your life. 

One of the best things you can do when thinking about inviting a leader onto your team is to see who they hang out with. Like attracts like.

A person’s friendship circle will tell you a lot about the kind of person they are…positively and negatively.

If you admire a potential leader’s friends, chances are you will love working with that potential leader. If you don’t, chances are you won’t.

If you see a circle of high capacity people who are very trustworthy around a potential leader, chances are that leader is trustworthy.

If you see a circle of backbiting, gossip, failed relationships or other struggles, chances are that’s what you’re recruiting.

The character of a potential leader’s friends will tell you a lot about their character.

You don’t need to judge here…you just need to discern.

The health of your organization and team matters too much for you to ignore this.


3. What’s their trajectory?

I love the idea of trajectory in leadership.

Trajectory is simply the path followed by an object in motion. You can predict an object’s future course by looking at its past.

The same is true of people.

Every potential leaders you’re considering has a track record…a past that will indicate how they might perform in the future. This is true even of kids and teens (what kind of student/friend are they?).

Often as a leader, you’ll be tempted to ignore a person’s track record. You’ve fallen in love with them (as a leader). And you’ve convinced yourself that ‘this time will be different….I know he/she just needs a better environment’.

Well, maybe. (Kind of sounds like a bad marriage ready to happen, doesn’t it?)

Wouldn’t you be wiser to look at their past and ask this question:

What have they done with what they’ve been given?

If they couldn’t make it work before, why would they be able to make it work with your team?

Conversely, if they took a small team and made it healthy and grow, maybe you could trust them with a larger team.

If they’ve been responsible with a little, maybe it’s reasonable to trust them with more. (This sounds almost biblical doesn’t it?

That’s trajectory: a leader’s past is a preview of their future.

Does that mean you shouldn’t give a person a break? After all, maybe this time won’t be like the last time.

Sure, once in a while you might want to do this. But don’t give that person major responsibility when they’ve been irresponsible in the past. Give them a little bit. And pray for them. And help. And watch. And be honest with how they’re doing.

But never hire out of charity–at least if you want an organization that makes an impact. Charity is charity. Hiring is not. Churches mess this up all the time.

So by all means be charitable and radically generous. Give…and expect nothing in return. For sure, you should always be helping and ministering to people and learning from people. They just don’t have to be the team you’re counting on to push your mission forward.

If you want to advance your mission, recruit people with the skill set you need for the job. Charity is different from team building.

Find leaders with a track record you want repeated in your organization.

By the way, this works personally too. If you’re wondering whether to invest more time with people, these three questions can clarify a lot.

And it can help you get over the issue many leaders never scale: friendship. As I wrote about in this post, you don’t have to be lonely as a leader.

What do you think?

Any other questions you’d add to this list?

Leave a comment!

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  • http://www.isaachopper.com/ Isaac

    Thanks for this, Carey. I’ve been guilty of placing people in leadership roles, because either a) they ask for it (even if not qualified) or b) I need to fill the spot. I particularly appreciate your suggestion to give people smaller responsibilities first, pray for and support them, but make sure more responsibility is given to those with a demonstrated alignment, character, and track record. Really excellent stuff, here.

    • http://www.careynieuwhof.com/ Carey Nieuwhof

      Isaac…thanks so much. Hope it helps. Keep going my friend!

  • Bobby Kajita

    With the reference to Church I would require giving credit to the biblical comparisons to each of your points. What are the three scriptures you drew from when converting them to worldly text?

  • Steven Barr

    That’s awesome, Carey. A glimpse into their past, present, and probable future. Simple, but effective.

    • Carey Nieuwhof

      Well said Steven!

  • Joel Extra Ramos

    I agree that leadership can make you or break you. In the church, building the leadership stronger will not only make the Leader strong but it can create more strong leaders. Jesus led the way of strong leadership eventhough He had weak disciples, but He transformed them into strong leaders.

    • Carey Nieuwhof

      True Joel! Thank you!

  • Lyndel Berris

    It’s a trap leaders can continue to fall in. Like you’ve said, they’ve fallen in love with the leader (and or the person) and so are blinded or refuse to look at the pattern of behavior of that person and continue to believe this time will be different. It’s so frustrating to watch it happen time and time again. It then becomes a pattern of behavior of the leader who overlooks the pattern of behavior in the other person that would save them from and the other leaders in the church from future problems and difficulties.

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  • Brent Brewer

    What authors are they reading? Who they quote on social media speaks deeply about a person?

  • http://www.lawrencewilson.com/p/about-me.html Lawrence W. Wilson

    I might put something about passion and/or ability on the list. Maybe that’s part of trajectory? I agree that alignment is tops. But they also have to execute.

    • http://careynieuwhof.com/ Carey Nieuwhof

      I think it might be part of trajectory but it’s definitely something to look for!

  • Mark

    Additional ones are:
    How did the person get the position?

    Can the person keep their mouth shut?

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