Five Characteristics of a Trustworthy Leader by Rev. Darren DeGraaf

What image is conjured in your mind when you hear those words? Many flood my mind: The smiling father standing in the shallow end of a pool with arms open wide inviting his young child to jump in. The rock-climbing instructor who carefully explains in great detail how the ropes and the knots work together with a belayer to ensure the climber is safely locked in. The politician who stands before the masses and with either those exact words, or with story, metaphor and example indicates to those she seeks to lead, “I am trustworthy”.

A recent CNN/Gallup poll reported that virtue and character strength issues overshadow all other factors in determining American voting patterns. Churches, businesses and governments alike work hard to protect and preserve trust. Churches create child protection policies to alleviate parental concern. Businesses institute ethics policies, or ombudsmen to diminish the anxiety of the consumer. Governments create bipartisan ethics committees.

Trust forms the foundation of every healthy society. When it is absent on a grand scale, a society experiences anarchy, chaos and ongoing fear. On an individual scale, broken promises or broken trust during childhood can have a lifelong impact. Marriages, families, and business partnerships are all examples of relationships that have trust at their core.

As the greatest leader in human history, Jesus understood that trust is an essential component not only within human relationships, but even more so in the development of effective faith. Jesus said to his followers: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” (John 14:1). Other biblical leaders concur – The concept of trust is discussed 53 times in the Psalms – as King David extols the trustworthiness of God: “…I trust in your unfailing love” (Psalm 13:5), “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God”. (Ps. 20:7)


While it may have once been assumed that a leader could base their authority primarily on position or title, things have changed. Leaders today undertake their roles in an atmosphere of suspicion and must earn over time what was once assumed. Even within the most hierarchical of organizations – the military, there is a growing awareness that an officer must generate trust from his or her subordinates. A leader cannot lead without authority, but today’s leaders earn the right to lead, to be heard, and to guide the vision, through the establishment of a trust relationship. Therefore the development and maintenance of trust should be at the very top of every leader’s and organization’s goals. One reason why it is not is that most leaders consider trust to be an intangible commodity – hard to earn, and easy to lose. But there are tangible elements that form the basis of trust that are worthy of careful consideration:

Integrity – The root of the word is similar to integer, or integral – meaning whole, or something complete. A trustworthy leader is someone who is whole – who demonstrates congruence between their words and their actions, their persona and their character. The obvious aspects of integrity include morality, ethics, honesty, and accuracy. But there are other more subtle aspects to personal integrity. The Arrow Leadership Program focuses on self-awareness, because we know that integrity begins with a leader’s honest self-assessment and a personalized plan towards integration and wholeness in character, attitudes and actions. A leader who lacks self-awareness will not have an accurate read on how or why they act the way they do. A person of integrity refuses to live a divided life – consciously or unconsciously. All other characteristics of a trustworthy leader flow out of a leader’s integrity. It is important to note that integrity is not synonymous with perfection. Perfection is something without flaw, while integrity is something that is whole, that is complete – without duplicity or falseness – with strength on both the inside and the outside.

As a leader ask yourself: Would those who follow me describe me as a whole person? Am I an individual who lives an integrated life? Are there aspects of my life that cause me to hide behind my persona rather than honestly reflect who I am? What action steps do I have in place to grow in integrity and wholeness?

Courage – Courage is the ability to stand strong, in the midst of, or despite our fears. As a result, courage is deeply personal, and is revealed differently in every leader. Courageous leaders build trust, because they can be counted upon to act with integrity, and make the right decisions even at great cost to themselves. Many of us can think of leaders in our lives who knew what they should do, but lacked the courage to do so. As a result we learned not to trust them. Courageous leaders protect their followers, most often from false accusations, unfair critique and gossip. They are loyal to their team and ensure that their followers know that the leader “has their back”. Furthermore, they can be counted on to speak the truth, even when painful to do so, prayerfully and lovingly saying the hard words others may dare not to speak.. A courageous leader is a person who lives out their convictions and values, and can be counted on to do so. . Such actions engenders trust because followers know that the leader not only desires to do what is right, but has the courageous discipline to act.

As a leader ask yourself: What is it that I fear? Do my fears prevent me from establishing trust with those I lead? Would those who follow me describe me as a courageous person? Are there unresolved fears in my life that prevent or inhibit courageous living?

Wisdom – Godly wisdom is the result of a life submitted to God and a healthy perspective and reflection upon the experience of godly living. Sometimes wisdom is equated with age. While wisdom almost always takes time, it is not a given that an aged person is also a wise person. Experience is not enough. Experience that is reflected upon in the light of the truth of Christ with a healthy perspective leads to godly wisdom. God’s word primarily links wisdom with righteousness, both necessary components of a trustworthy leader. Poor decisions or judgment destroy trust just as often as fear or duplicity. Jesus taught often about trustworthy stewards or managers. They are individuals who act with wisdom and prudence. Wisdom becomes increasingly important as one’s influence and position increases, since the decisions of an influencer or leader impact greater numbers of people. Wisdom allows a leader to anticipate how particular actions or events will affect individuals and groups and how they may respond. Wise decisions engender trust because followers, peers and those in authority know that right actions, words and timing will be aligned.

As a leader ask yourself: What are the steps necessary for me to grow in wisdom? Do my choices and decisions often prevent me from establishing trust with those I lead? Would those who follow me describe me as a wise decision maker and leader? Does my immaturity prevent or inhibit my ability to earn the trust of those I serve?

Motivation – What is the motivation behind my leadership? Am I motivated by position, influence, perks and ambition, or am I motivated to serve, nurture, empower and support? A leader whose ambition is public acclaim, larger crowds, or the corner office cannot be trusted. Nor is a leader whose inflated ego demands blind allegiance. Jesus’ famous “vision statement” is juxtaposed against such selfish intent: “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many”. (Mark 10:45). Greatness in Christ’s kingdom is equated with servant hood and sacrifice. Selfishness breeds mistrust because those around a selfish leader know they are being used and that their contributions are simply a means through which the leader enriches his position, ambitions or plans.. Sacrificial leaders focus on servant hood, and continually seek ways to empower, support and nurture those who they are entrusted to lead. Such leadership results in greater trustworthiness because the lives of those around a sacrificial leader are enriched. They see tangible evidence that the leader cares about their growth, their success and their well-being. A selfish leader can only be trusted to do what is best for themselves, while a sacrificial leader puts the well-being of their followers first. Such motivation requires integrity, courage and wisdom. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)

As a leader ask yourself: Would those who follow my lead consider me to be a sacrificial leader? Am I motivated by selfish ambition or by a desire to serve and empower those I lead? Do I covet personal gain or the realization of Christ’s kingdom? How do my desires for selfish gain destroy trust in those I serve?

Stability Like The Rock of Gibraltar

Stability – Stable leadership provides a trustworthy platform for the execution of established goals, objectives and plans. It also provides a firm launching point for appropriate risk taking. It is foolish to trust a vessel that is not sea-worthy on the open waters, but a dependable vessel can brave the toughest of storms. Similarly, inconsistent leaders cause uncertainty and fear in the lives of those they lead. They are tossed by the waves of public opinion, by their whims and emotions, or the newest fad, trend or flavour of the day. What is desperately needed are leaders with the emotional and spiritual rootedness to ride the storm and not be broken by it. Stable leaders provide a consistency that generates trust and allows for an atmosphere of risk taking and discovery. Children from stable homes with consistent rules grow to be healthy, strong, inquisitive and courageous. A stable leader with disciplined reactions, consistent values and clear vision is a leader who can be trusted. We are reminded in Scripture that God is faithful, and consistent – and can therefore be trusted. In contrast, the gods of the ancients, and other religions to this day are described as fickle and moody – keeping their followers off balance, unsure and fearful. Our God is faithful, which results in equilibrium and constancy. Confidence, dependability, and trustworthiness go hand in hand.

As a leader ask yourself: Am I consistent in my actions, decisions and moods? How does my inconsistency breed insecurity or uncertainty in those I lead? What discipline must I add to my life to become more self-disciplined in my behaviours, reactions and moods? What would be the impact of a more focused life on those who interact with me on a regular basis?

Conclusion –

Trustworthy leaders are also trusting leaders. In fact one of the best ways to establish trust is to trust others. Leaders set the tone and culture of their homes, organizations and churches. Those that establish an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust breed those characteristics in those they lead. It is hard to trust someone who doesn’t trust me. Once again, Jesus illustrates this point. At the end of his time on earth, he commissioned his followers with a grand task: “As the father has sent me, so I am sending you” (John 20:21).

Jesus exemplified the life of a trustworthy leader. His life was one of integrity, courage, wisdom, servant hood and stability. While he was unwavering in his vision, and sometimes stern in his response, those who were led by Him trusted him and experienced safety within that relationship. Jesus entrusted his followers with great responsibility, and today those of us who follow him retain that trust and responsibility.

Leaders who are led by Jesus, and grow in their ability to lead like Jesus are trustworthy leaders. Arrow leadership has a focus on developing leaders who are led more by Jesus, who lead more like Jesus to lead more to Jesus. Jesus-style leaders act incarnationally in the lives of those they lead, as a representative of Christ. Are you a leader who has submitted not just your self to Christ, but your leadership style?

Are you the kind of leader who can truly say to those who follow, “You can Trust me”?

Darren DeGraaf – Director of Leadership Services

Rev. Darren DeGraaf serves as the Director of Leadership Services for Arrow Leadership. In this role Darren extends Arrow’s passion to sharpen and transform Christian leaders by providing coaching, consultancy, training and organizational development to churches and Christian not for profit organizations.

Darren’s background includes roles in pastoral and denominational leadership and as an educator at Tyndale University and Seminary, Wycliffe College (the University of Toronto) and McMaster Divinity College (McMaster University). Darren has been trained as an executive and life coach and has served as a consultant to churches and Non-profits across North America.

Prior to coming to Arrow, Darren served as the Director of Leadership Development with the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec. Darren is a graduate of the Arrow Leadership Program, has an M.A. in Religion from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and a B.A. in History from McMaster University.

Darren lives in Abbotsford B.C. with his wife and three children.

© John Mark Ministries.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Ksh. Chaoba Singh says:

    Sir, It is happy to me towrite few words to you regarding the qualities of a christian leadership. I am the mission secretay of a small organization. this organization is the only baptist organization working among the most unreached people group in the state of Manipur, India. we have more than 95 small churches including fellowships with few believers in the different villages of the state. So having realized my shortage of leadership qualities I want to learn some the basics, so that I may be an effective leader who lead and teach workers in the Lord’s harvest. Therefore please kindly send me something to learn in my email address.

    Yours in His service

    Ksh. Chaoba

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