Trust may be the single most important connection you can build. (Pixabay/jerryzhuca)

When it comes to leadership and influence, we rarely talk about trust. When we do, it's usually in terms of honesty and integrity. Questions like: "Can I trust you to honor your word?" or "Can you be trusted with finances?" usually come to mind. Those questions are important, but the truth is, trust is a far deeper issue, and when it comes to your team, employees, congregation or followers, trust may be the single most important connection you can build. Especially when it comes to leading the next generation, to achieve connection, here are four principles every leader and influencer should know:

1. Trust doesn't come easily.  This is the most marketed, sold, pitched-to and promoted generation in history. Particularly when it comes to Millennials, they've grown up around brand names, Super Bowl commercials and sales pitches. They make judgments about everything they encounter through apps like "Yelp." That's why when you tell them your conference will "shake nations" or your new book will "transform the culture" they're naturally skeptical—and should be. They're weary of all the hype and have learned to see through it.

2. They stopped trusting early in life.  Half of all American children will witness their parent's divorce. In fact, nearly that many will see the breakup of a parent's second marriage and one of every 10 will experience three or more parental divorces. We can pretend it doesn't impact kids or convince ourselves that "It's for the good of the children," but a study six years after their parent's marriage breakup revealed even after all that time, these children tended to be "lonely, unhappy, anxious and insecure."

3. They've grown up in a skeptical culture.  In the old days, the media gave celebrities and leaders a pass. Rarely was President Roosevelt's polio mentioned (or even shown), and the adulterous affairs of leaders like John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were virtually ignored. But since Richard Nixon and Watergate, everything changed. Today, reporters scour personal records, emails, or dig back decades to expose mistakes and wrongdoing. Shows like TMZ were created to reveal "celebrity secrets." Watching TV, the internet or using social media today makes it virtually impossible to believe anyone can be trusted.

4. The media can be particularly vicious when it comes to religion.  Over the last few decades in most prime-time programs, the "Christian" character will usually be the crazy person, the pedophile or the hypocrite. Religious belief is regularly ridiculed in science programs or made fun of on talk shows. With little to counter those images, it's easy to understand the lack of trust when it comes to faith.

Never in history has the concept of "trust" been so undermined on a daily basis.  That's why leaders and influencers today need to be very intentional when it comes to building trust with your team, employees, congregation or followers. I could write a book on the subject, but here are a few places to start:

1. Just be real.  Everyone sees through the hype, so tone down the exaggeration on your resume, stop making everything about yourself and refocus on others. It's been said often, but authenticity matters more than ever.

2. Stop hiding your mistakes.  Be vulnerable and show your team you're not perfect. (Trust me—they already noticed.) Showing your imperfections can actually be a powerful way to connect with others.

3. Finally, create a culture where it's safe to fail.  Developing trust is about creating an atmosphere where people are comfortable being themselves. Never relax standards of excellence or integrity, but allow people the room to stretch, take risks and do it without punishment. The trust that comes out of that experience will take your entire team to a new level of performance—not to mention friendship.

An internationally known writer and speaker, Phil Cooke has produced media programming in nearly 50 countries around the world.

This article originally appeared at

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