The Courage to Trust Your Team

The only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him.- Henry Stimson

Leadership is commonly associated with action – trying, doing, achieving. However, there is another side to leadership that focuses on the followers: trust. As leaders, we need to actively trust our followers. This may sound simple, but is often harder for the goal-oriented achievers.

The act of trusting often requires letting go of our need to control outcomes or people, our defense mechanisms, and our preconceptions about what is “right.” For hard-driving controlling types, such as the coffee-clutching professionals who make up much of today’s workforce, this goes against the grain of everything they stand for. Trust runs counter to the take-charge ethos that epitomizes today’s business world. In many companies, the most valued employees are those who, when encountering challenging situations, control chaos, force order, and take decisive action. As the Roman poet Virgil said, “Fortune favors the bold.”

TRUST Courage, for managers, is a tricky thing. On the one hand, you need your employees to trust you so that they follow your direction enthusiastically. On the other hand, you have to monitor their performance, which, if done too closely, often feels distrusting. Plus many managers work in companies layered with systems that are inherently distrustful. It is more difficult to fill workers’ TRUST buckets if you’re an extension of a system that doesn’t trust them. “Sure,” your workers may say, “I’ll trust you . . . just as soon as you get the company to stop random drug testing, monitoring our e-mails, and making us submit time reports.”

New managers in particular are challenged with TRUST Courage. Consider, for example, how hard it is for new managers to delegate important tasks to employees. In such instances, if the employee screws up, it can reflect on the manager, not the employee. Consequently, many new managers struggle to fully let go of delegated tasks, choosing to hover above direct reports like smothering parents. In so doing, they become Spillers, thwarting employee development and keeping themselves mired in tasks that they should have outgrown by this stage in their careers.

Delegation involves not acting on the temptation to grab the task back from the employee. The ability to delegate is directly proportional to how much trust a manager has in an employee. Trust doesn’t come easily for new managers (or immature experienced ones), because it involves intentionally refraining from controlling an outcome (or a person). If the manager doesn’t trust that the employee will get the job done, he will grab the task back and do it himself—or worse, he won’t even give the task to the employee in the first place. The result is a sort of leadership dependency whereby workers wait to be told what to do, like baby birds waiting to be fed. When this happens, a dangerous Spill cycle begins; the leader keeps doing the tasks, which keeps the workers from gaining the skills to do the tasks, which keeps the leader from delegating the tasks, which keeps the leader doing the tasks, et cetera.

TRUST Courage involves taking risks on other people and accepting that you might get harmed in the process.

Trust is risky. When you trust, you become vulnerable to actions that are beyond your direct control. Your success becomes dependent upon someone else’s action. Th e challenge here is one of reliance; you have to give up direct control and rely on the actions of others. It is this lack of control that makes trust so difficult. Trusting you can harm me. Because of this risk, it takes courage to place trust in others. It takes TRUST Courage, for example, to let employees do their jobs without interference. It takes TRUST Courage to accept that, despite their best efforts, employees will make occasional mistakes.

How can you trust your team more this week? What would that look like for you?

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