7 People Skills for Building the Cornerstone of Leadership



A cornerstone is something or someone everyone else depends on.  In leadership, trust is that cornerstone.   Trust is the emotional glue that binds together followers and leaders. 

Trust is not the byproduct of title or position.  It can’t be demanded or acquired.  It is in fact something a leader’s given by followers, primarily as the byproduct of the leader developing and practicing specific skills of heart...people and relationship competencies that are the core skills required to achieve leadership excellence. 

In this short article, we will explore seven skills that are key to a leader developing and maintaining the trust of their followers. Practicing them manifests in specific behaviors that reflect non-debatable and uncompromising values that drive and direct a truly great leader. 

Heart-based Leadership Skills

Skill is the competency to do something exceptionally well.  To gain and maintain the trust of their followers, extraordinary leaders develop and continually practice specific heart-based skills.  I will limit the discussion to a few that I feel are particularly important to trust building: 

 Authentic, transparent and vulnerable;

Personally connected, involved and covenant-based in relationships; and

Truth-centered communicators;

Let's briefly explore each of those by referring to those skill and behavioral examples of Jesus who, based on the number of his followers, is undeniably history's greatest leader.

If we want to lead like Jesus, we must become like him inside and out. Ken Blanchard   

Authentic, Transparent and Vulnerable

We will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ. Paul

The old nature in each of us wants to hide and conceal who we really are…our characters and our fears, weaknesses and agendas.  Consequently, we show self-serving personas of who we want others to think we are.  We seek to build reputations that belie who we really are.  Some call that good marketing and being clever and savvy.  But in reality it’s hypocrisy, dishonesty and pretension.  

On the other hand, Jesus was sincere, totally open and “for real.”  What you saw and heard was who he really was, not some fabrication for show.  For example, Jesus readily acknowledged when he was tired, when he felt pain and when he was troubled.  He was authentic, transparent and vulnerable in all ways. 

Like him, truly exceptional leaders are relational at their core, and thus fully self-aware, free of all deceit or intent to mislead; they play it straight, willing to show their real selves, and they’re open to critique by those they know will be honest with them.  They’re intentionally and purposefully clear and unambiguous, rather than fuzzy and disingenuous regarding everything…including their missions and expectations.  Consequently, they’re given and keep the trust of followers and build relationships and the unity required to fulfill the God vision and purpose of the families, businesses and other organizations they’re privileged to lead.  

Personally Connected, Involved and Covenant-based in Relationships

The highest calling of leadership is development and growth of people. — John Maxwell

In natural love, absence often makes the heart grow fonder.  However, in leadership, literal and figurative absence can have serious negative ramifications.  Contrastingly, ongoing personal connectedness can lead to significant positive results…especially in followers’ development and growth.  This is why superb leaders emulate Jesus, by building and maintaining healthy and harmonious personal relationships that are the doorway to developing and growing those entrusted to their care.  Jesus poured himself into his followers for three years, demonstrating that being true to highest leadership’s calling can’t be achieved by maintaining cosmetic distance from followers, but through intimacy with them.

He accomplished this kind of intimacy with his followers from a servant’s heart and by emulating with them the intimate relationship Jesus the man had with God.  Specifically that included presence, nearness, connectedness and commitment to his followers via teaching, mentoring and coaching. 

As he was, truly great leaders are covenant-based in their approach to people, relationships and their commitments.  They have the God-given Emotional Intelligence (HeartSkill) that assures they go beyond the legal letter of the law to selfless commitment to serve and care for others according to unchanging Truth.  They’re lovers of people who literally live to help others fulfill their dreams.  They realize that leadership’s not about them, but about their followers, and their highest goal is to be parents to all those God has entrusted to their care.

In pursuit of that goal, they realize they’re humans leading humans, much more than they’re leaders leading followers.  They don’t get frustrated or impatient with their followers, and they make concerted efforts to always treat them with dignity and respect…not like they’re impersonal “transactions.” 

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. — Leo Buscaglia

Christ-like leaders don’t underestimate the power of small things.  They possess the God-imparted ability to relate well and work well with others, while helping them maximize their potential.  Their family, workplace and personal relationships aren’t fear- or unhealthy pride-based, but rather built on love, intimate presence and connectedness as priorities.

Like history’s greatest leader, they lead from the heart, from the inside out and practice his ABCs of nurturing and nourishing intimate, trusting relationships that create and sustain positive relationship “bank accounts” and facilitate follower growth and development.  Those are:

A)    Being available.

The way and frequency a leader connects with others significantly affects results.  People follow leaders who are committed, remain connected, who ask questions, who really listen with their hearts, who partner with followers to get things done and always show appreciation by recognizing the talents and contributions of those entrusted to their care.  They teach, coach, mentor, encourage, support and affirm their followers.

Like Christ, outstanding leaders are neither fear- or pride-driven.  They have patient spirits, and therefore don’t view people as impositions on their time, but rather as opportunities to serve.  As Jesus was, they’re very personal…high-touch, more than high-tech individuals.  They’re not afraid of intimacy.  They know closeness doesn’t lead to loss of importance, control or power.  They recognize that’s a myth, and thus they make themselves available to and diligently initiate contact with followers.

Truly great leaders know leadership is very much situational, and thus demands a participative partnership between a leader and his or her followers.  They realize unexpected circumstances occur and create “in the moment” situational twists.  Like Jesus, they recognize that effectiveness in leadership is driven by what followers need. Therefore, as he was, they’re attentive and flexible, adapting their leadership to what’s appropriate in the situation, without compromising values and without owning followers’ responsibilities, choices and related consequences. 

They read people extremely well, and when they respond they’re always pleasant and professional.  They teach, coach and mentor when they discern followers are uninformed and have learning needs, direct and guide when followers appear confused, challenge and provoke them when they’re reluctant, encourage them and keep their hopes alive when they seem down, affirm them when they succeed, and rather than swoop in to solve their problems, let them own those and come up with their own solutions.   

In all those situations, the leader behaves like Jesus, especially asking lots of questions to facilitate participation in their followers’ own solution-creation and learning, thinking and responding, rather than being told by the leader what to do and reacting without imagination.  In other words, great leaders patiently come alongside their followers to teach them how to fish rather than catching fish for them.    

Many other benefits ensue as well, from a leader being consciously connected and available to their followers, including opportunities to recognize conflicts and respond to them swiftly.

In summary, excellent leaders don’t isolate or unduly insulate themselves from their followers.  Rather, they believe in, partner with and interact personally, appropriately and in timely ways with their followers; thereby, they help their followers grow and shape them into responsible people, wise decision-makers and genuine difference-makers.

B)     Being approachable and coachable.  

Excellent leaders create atmospheres of openness, by maintaining open-door-and-mind policies.  These include viewing feedback from others as a gift and being truly open to others’ influence.  Excellent leaders don’t “shoot messengers”; rather, they consider their messages as opportunities to grow.  Truly great leaders are approachable about and open to correction themselves…from those they lead and from an inner circle of Spirit-led peers…leaders and mentors who are preferably removed from leaders’ immediate leadership spheres, not yes-people, but people who are wise and know how to pray.  These special influencers are skilled and strong individuals who’ve been given freedom by leaders to speak Truth, and who expect respect from other leaders, with whom the leader prays to collectively hear the voice of God for wisdom in the decision-making process.

 You can only lead as far as you grow.  And, you will grow only as far as you let yourself. Bob Burg and John David Mann        

C)    Leading by The Golden Rule. 

Great leaders are servants who have hearts for people.  They’re relational at their cores.  Thus, they place high value on others and behave well toward them.  Their godly examples are their best mentoring and coaching influences.  Those assure healthy development and growth of people entrusted to their care.  Their followers truly enjoy being around and working with these special leaders.  That’s because these leaders possess high levels of Emotional Intelligence (HeartSkill)—the skill that assures that they see and handle people according to The Golden Rule.  Practicing this One Indispensable Rule of Truth includes being tactful toward and supporting followers, respecting their individuality and treating them individually.  It doesn’t mean compromising values and principles, or owning their problems or consequences of their bad choices.  It does mean trusting, extending grace and rather than cornering, fanging, nailing, shaming, demeaning and punishing people, it means picking them up when they fall and being gracious and giving them space, the benefit of the doubt and wise counsel.  These coaching and mentoring rather than punitive, actions create stronger followers and organizations and greater mutual respect and trust between leaders and followers.  That mutuality assures that confidential matters remain confidential.  It assures that power of position is used only in appropriate scenarios, privately and with godly sensitivity and wisdom.  And mutual respect and trust of followers builds group relationships that maximize harmony and unity, while minimizing conflicts and division. 

Coaching is the most important servant leadership element in helping people accomplish their goals. Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges  

Truth-Centered Communicator

Life and death are in the power of the tongue. The words of the godly are a life giving fountain. — Solomon   

Being a good communicator who wisely uses words that agree with God’s Word is an essential and hallmark skill of truly great leaders. 

Some say words have no power and “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”  Nothing could be further from the Truth.  Words and all manner of communications from a leader frame expectations and the future.  They create a constructive environment of life or a destructive atmosphere of death.  Followers either thrive or underperform their potential, depending on the tone set by the communication of their leader.  What leaders say and how they say it cause followers to trust or doubt them and lead to positive or negative results…personally, relationally and organizationally.

The words that we vocalize we legalize to maximize or minimize our and the lives of others. — Dee Bowman Barker

Eagerly desire the spiritual gift of prophecy.  Those who prophesy speak words that strengthen, encourage and comfort others. — Paul

Scripture is clear: We’re accountable to God for every word we communicate.  This is a commandment, not an option: that we should speak consistent with the promises of the Bible and not engage in idle conversations or loose and coarse communication.  In other words, excellent leaders always use the gift of communication to edify, uplift and affirm themselves and others.

Nothing corrupts followers, the environment and organizations as quickly and as decisively as a leader's negative words, cursing or communication that’s deceptive, harsh, false flattery, insincere or prejudicial. Such  ungodly communication is a rapidly spreading, deadly poison that debilitates and impairs.  Conversely, godly communication….words of the Word…modest, God-centered, life-imparting, grace-expressive and scenario-appropriate…are the food and drink that nourish and nurture leaders and their followers. 

The ROI (return on investment) of godly communication is out of this world!  It enlivens and lifts spirits and builds individuals, relationships and organizations.  Godly communication keeps Truth’s core values and promises at the forefront and creates and perpetuates the infectiously positive atmosphere required for progressive personal, relationship and organizational growth.   

Seek first to understand, then to be understood. — Francis of Assisi 

To be given trust by followers, a leader needs to be a spiritually grounded and emotionally mature individual…one who not only uses words wisely, but has the critically important skill of listening to hear.  Mature leaders aren’t self-centered, but others-focused.  Thus, they’re not deceiving, smooth-talking individuals who don’t listen to others.  Listening to hear is a significant component of being a Truth-centered communicator, who listens first and foremost for and to God...with the heart, not merely the mind.  That was Jesus’ priority communication habit.

By listening for and to God and then interactively co-operating with him, leaders develop the hearing, speaking and writing skills required to live and lead by Jesus’ Caregiver Leadership Paradigm.  As he did, they understand that careless words, not really listening and inaccurate or dishonest information can lead to unwise communication, erosion of trust, fear instead of confidence and bad decisions.

Truth-centered communicators realize that to get people to follow them, they must be able to communicate well and passionately.  And to do their jobs well, followers need timely access to all information required for success.  Full and good communication educates, enlivens and frees them to perform roles well; but poor communication confuses and cripples…and far too often, kills! 

Be slow to speak, quick to listen. — James

Last but not least, Truth-centered communicators know that listening to hear with their hearts lets others know that they and their thoughts, feelings and opinions are important.  These communicators are students of people and their feelings.  They know they can’t lead well without being good observers of others and their feelings and continually listening well.  They don’t talk over others, and when they do speak, they express themselves tactfully, in a sensitive, nonabrasive, nonabusive and affirming manner.

These people-skilled leaders follow Biblically-based habits of communication.  They:

Regularly say please, thank you and I’m sorry; ask nicely; proactively communicate; respond timely; carefully choose words, tone and body language.  They’re respectful of others’ ideas and opinions and seek out those before setting in concrete their own viewpoints; they value others’ time and thus, communicate with others only about what affects and interests them. 

They “powder-puff ” their communication (speak gentle and kind words); wear  “heart-held elephant ears” in every conversation; are fully present and don’t interrupt; think before speaking or writing; listen to feedback to assure intended messages are received. Before responding, they restate and confirm audience questions; align verbal and written communication with Truth; emphasize clarity, simplicity and freely share accurate and honest information; take time to understand the audience’s attitudes, backgrounds and beliefs and factor those in when preparing a message.  They practice verbal messages before delivering them; show personal responsibility by using the first person singular; use the same words consistently and explain them and their logic thoroughly; repeat key items to assure the audience understands; invite hearers to ask questions and make comments; graciously field questions and provide kind responses.  They’re honest if they don’t have answers…and assure others that answers will be found and communicated; they follow through on promises; provide frequent progress updates that are clear, concise and specific. 

They never respond in emotionally out-of-control ways; rather, they respond under the self-control fruit the Holy Spirit grows in them.  They compliment and show heartfelt appreciation to those who do things well; celebrate triumphs; use every opportunity to affirm and praise others…publicly and privately…always citing specific behaviors or results.  They patiently correct others mistakes in pleasant ways, using them as opportunities to mentor and coach Truth.  They don’t expect or demand perfection, but exhort each person to rise above average to live up to their potential in God.  They’re effective mediators and peacemakers who tear down walls by employing Biblically-based conflict management and resolution methods that build bridges and create goodwill between estranged parties.  And last but not least, they know silence is sometimes golden.

But Trust Requires More

A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way. — John Maxwell

Truth-centered communication by leaders is only step one toward gaining and maintaining trust. Verbal and written communication must be linked directly to consistent Christ-like examples.  “Do as I say, not as I do,” is not a strategy that will ensure that followers give leaders their trust. 

Influence by godly example is one of the most important of all functions of leadership.  Indeed, it’s a leader’s best mentoring and coaching tool and key to gaining and maintaining follower trust.

Off and on the job, the behavior of virtuous leaders matches their words.  As truly great leaders, they know actions speak louder than words…therefore, they walk their talk, practice what they preach and never ask others to do something the leader’s unwilling to do her or himself.  They say what they mean, mean what they say and do what they say.  Thereby, they prove themselves trustworthy and earn the trust of their followers. 

Superb leaders don’t spend their time telling others how to behave…they show them.  Their examples trump all their words and creeds and always express the fruit of the Spirit living in and leading through them. 

The measure of genuinely great leaders is how well they’ve modeled The Leader…Jesus.  They understand that their followers need godly models, not unwise critics.  Therefore, at home, on the job and in every setting, truly great leaders are folks who take seriously the Jesus-like skills shared in this article.

Closing Food for Thought

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek, and lowly in heart. — Jesus

Genuine gratitude and humility were two of Jesus’ most remarkable qualities. Gratitude and humility of heart and mind and all the Jesus-like traits, attitudes, behaviors and competencies discussed in this article along with others in my new book titled Follow The Leader are why billions have trusted and followed him.  These skills aren’t weaknesses, but rather reflections of poise, strength and emotional and spiritual stability a leader needs to assure they are trusted by their followers and all they accomplish brings attention, honor and glory to God.  

About The Author

Cecil O. Kemp Jr. is the award-winning author of 27 books and a sought after leadership mentor, life coach and keynote inspirational speaker.  Click here to learn more about him and to inquire about booking his services.

This blog post is a paraphrased excerpt from Cecil's new and critically acclaimed leadership book titled Follow The Leader (Timeless Truths of Genuinely DifferenceMaking Leadership).  It is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, other retail book stores and Cecil's online bookstore. Click here to learn more and purchase your copy:  http://www.cecilkemp.com/store/