Telling the Difference between Breaking Trust and Making a Mistake

Sam Rainer

February 7, 2016

Leaders fail when they accuse someone of breaking trust when all that person did was make an honest mistake. It’s demoralizing for the accused. Leaders also fail when they dismiss betrayal, thinking the betrayer was simply mistaken. That’s dangerous for the leader.

I’ve made mistakes as a leader. One in particular stands out. The pre-filled-peel-and-partake communion cups were a mistake. I thought they would make the Lord’s Supper process more efficient. Apparently, no one cares about efficiency in worship when the communion cups randomly explode after being exposed to freezing weather during the shipping process. After a few years, I can laugh about it. No one laughed then.

Leaders make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. Mistakes occur for many reasons: laziness, stubbornness, misinformation, miscalculations, and ineptitude. Even the most competent of people, however, make honest mistakes, like when communion cups become grape juice grenades.

Making a mistake is different than breaking trust—qualitatively different. Breaking trust is never appropriate. Breaking trust is a form of betrayal. It’s one thing for communion cups to explode. It’s another thing to work behind the scenes to undermine or deceive a friend. The mistake stains clothes. The betrayal stains a soul. You’re going to be Barney Fife at times. You’ll shoot yourself in the foot. You don’t ever want to be Judas retreating from the Last Supper table.

Your team will make mistakes. You should expect others to make mistakes. In fact, you should give your team the freedom to make mistakes. But you should also maintain zero tolerance for a betrayal of trust. As a church leader, how can you tell the difference between a mistake and betrayal?

Ask before jumping to conclusions. If you believe someone has made a major mistake that could rise to the level of breaking trust, then your first step is to talk to the individual. Too often leaders jump to conclusions without hearing the other side. Too often this leap is due to the leader’s own insecurities.

Don’t micro-analyze every mistake. If insecure leaders jump to conclusions, overbearing leaders will micro-analyze everyone’s mistakes. When someone on your team makes an honest mistake, move on. Good team members will learn from their own mistakes. Splitting hairs creates splitting headaches.

Don’t project past offenses on others. Someone from your past betrayed you. Just because another person has a similar personality doesn’t mean he or she will betray you too. You should not project someone’s past offenses on another person.

Look for a pattern. A few mistakes every now and then is normal. Making the same mistake multiple times after multiple warnings is a pattern you cannot ignore.

Consider the intent. When someone breaks your trust, intent exists. When someone makes a mistake, they don’t intend to do so.

Consider the whole of a person. No one wants to be judged by an isolated mistake. No one should be judged by one mistake. Even in the case of something substantial, consider the entirety of a person. All people make mistakes. In fact, all people have sin. As a leader, you must look at all of who a person is, not just who they are in a bad moment.

Mistakes are inevitable. Leading change and taking risk will produce mistakes. Indeed, you can’t move forward without incurring some mistakes. Your team will make mistakes too. Just don’t mistake them for breaking trust.

3 comments on “Telling the Difference between Breaking Trust and Making a Mistake”

  1. Sean Leacy says:

    Very true and very applicable to marriage as well!

  2. Deborah Ann Flores says:

    exactly! thank you for sharing!I
    had something similar happen to me in church what you just said was so true
    ask before jumping to conclusions.

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