Best Story Ever on Leading with Trust


I’ve got three things for you  today – an unbelievably crazy story, a lesson in leadership from Kouzes and Posner, and a question or two for you.  Here’s the story:

We go to church and Fr. Mark says that he has been to Kenya and he wants us to help.  There’s an orphanage in a village there, because the HIV/AIDS toll has been so great that there are many, many orphans who need to be cared for.  There are already two orphanages. They want to build a third one that will house 50 children and it will cost $65,000.  And Fr Mark says he needs money.  So you think he’s going to  collect, right?  That’s not what he did.  Instead, he says he’s gonna distribute money to us.  Get this: He says he’s gonna pass out envelopes and that you’re gonna get an envelope with anywhere from $15 to $150 dollars in it. And his request is that over the next six weeks of this period of Lent (the forty days leading up to Easter) that you would actually take that money and somehow use it and bring back more money.*  Maybe, he says, you buy brownie mix and sell brownies or buy lemonade mix and sell lemonade, or otherwise get creative.

Now, if you’re like me, do you believe this?  Do you believe this guy’s really gonna hand out money?  Well sure enough the baskets come around and I pull out an envelope. I open it up thinking there’s got to be something, a check, something that is money but not cash.  But no, look what’s in there:  a ten, two twenties, and a fifty dollar bill — a hundred dollars.  I’ve got a hundred dollars.  Isn’t this incredible?

Now, think of this in terms of what Kouzes and Posner say in their great book The Leadership Challenge:

“If we could offer you only one bit of advice on how to start the process of creating a climate of trust it would be this: be the first to trust.  Building trust is a process that begins when one party is willing to risk being the first to open up, being  the first to show vulnerability, and being the first to let go of control…Leaders go first, as the word leader implies.”
Are you kidding me?!!.  Talk about letting go of control.  This parish church in the middle of Oakland was giving away $12,000 in the hope and trust that we would do more.

So, my question for you is how do you lead with that kind of trust with your people?  What do you say to your staff?  How do you give them time, or a bonus ahead of time, or anything else that will help them to perform?  With your children how do you say: here’s some time, or here’s some money, or here’s the benefit of the doubt, because I trust you, and I trust you’ll do something great?

Trust is key when you

Lead with your best self,


* Those who read the New Testament will probably make the same connection that Fr. Mark offered; this is the parable of the talents in reality.  And I guess since I was given a big chunk, I better not bury it in a field!

  • Dan,

    Great story and it certainly is an intersting challenge. The priest in your discussion passed out money which suggests he is asking the congregation to do something that will generate a return equal to or greater than the money he passed out. So in the work place, a leader has to initiiate some concept that suggests the staff he or she manages or leads will respond accordingly by making some form of contribution that will appear to the manager/leader to equate with what the leader is willing to give the employees. This can be done in a variety of ways. One could be some form of monetary compensation that would motivate the employees to collaborate on doing something different in the work place that will generate value to the operation in the form of customer satisfaction, increased sales, an increase in productivity, or improve cusomer relations which could have a positve impact on the operation of the business. Certainly, the leader would have convince the workers to buy into what the leader is trying to achieve. However, if a plan is carefully thought out, the risk may be worth taking. An up front bonus or reward does not have to be monetary but something the employee (ees) value and it would have to be demonstrated the manager/ leader is doing something out of the ordinary that traditionally had been considered not applicable and exposes the manager/leader to risk.
    More importantly, if the work place has a history of poor management-employee relations the task becomes more daunting whereas in an employment setting where friction has been historically absent the challenge may be easier to accept. Otherwise, to establish the trust necessary would require a long range program to create that foundation.

  • I wish I had been there. Looking forward to hearing about what is generated during Lent at St. Augustine’s. I sure will miss the parish.

  • We did this at our church a few years ago and it generated an amazing response (each parishoner was gievn $50). The money was distributed to everybody present, even the children, and I believe we doubled the money. Children held car washes, made crafts, and found ways to help the church support our target mission partners.

  • What a great story, what a great idea, and, it sounds like, what a great priest! As Gloria said, I look forward to hearing what the parishioners generate. I also look forward to ways I can use this at work. I’ve already shared it with a few leaders who do fundraising to see if it gives them ideas.
    Thanks for brightening my afternoon.

  • Dan,

    This story really gets my mind filling with possibilities – Thanks for sharing. As for trust, I have an employee who recently went through a divorce. He is now a single parent with 2 children ages 5 and 7. He was very concerned about his ability to spend time with his children (we do lots of nights and weekends). We reached an agreement whereby he may take mondays off provided the work gets done. I trusted that he would work more on days he doesn’t have his kids to compensate for that extra day with his kids. In this case I have been rewarded with a star performer who is exceptionally loyal.

    Next I may make the same deal with the rest of our small staff.

  • This blog isn’t, in my opinion, about money or monetary exchange. It’s about trust: T-R-U-S-T. It’s about being willing to do something that someone else might think is crazy because it’s what YOU believe in. And you’re right, Dan – it’s up to us to step out there with the behaviors we expect from others. That makes them real, embodied. It makes others braver because they have seen us step up and take that risk.

    So, Fr. Mark’s willingness to do something as radical as he did, to trust that people would make the right choice, taught the recipients that they, in turn, are trusted. Quite a wild notion in today’s society. I’d guess that Fr. Mark’s seemingly outrageous behavior came from a place of willingness to be vulnerable, to take a risk, and to trust his experiment.

    What a great lesson in leadership for the rest of us.

  • I’m afraid I might sound like buzz kill here…but to me, this sounds manipulative. Giving to get is – even if the getting is for charity. It’s a “gift” with strings. And trust requires some agreement beforehand. Unless there is plenty of room to decline, my response to this is much different than the others. It sounds like a tactic, not a show of trust. If there is plenty of room to decline, then I’m fine with it.

    • Meryl,
      The weird thing was: (a) you didn’t have to take an envelope, (b) if you did, you didn’t “sign it out” in any way, i.e., they didn’t know who got what envelope or took what amount.
      It’s okay to kill the buzz, Meryl, but I’m not sure I get the objection (at least in light of the fuller facts I’m sharing).

  • I appreciate Meryl’s comment. I regularly find that what I see as a clearly good idea isn’t viewed that way by others. I appreciate hearing a completely or partiallly different view before I get myself too far down a path of my enthusiasm.

    • Cathy,
      Yes. I have this experience you describe — of being geeked about an idea while others just aren’t — as well, and I guess I’ve shown I’m guilty of it here :-). If I hear you, you’re saying: Listen to the objector and the objection. Yes?
      Listening to the objector: The fact that Meryyl sees it as a tactic is not “wrong.” It’s her view and valid as such.
      What do we make of the objection, though?
      Is there a way to “purify” this action? Make it less tactical? Meryl, any thoughts?

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