Trust pinned on noticeboardTrust is a powerful word. It just feels good to say it. Go ahead… say it. Don’t be shy. Ignore the guy in the cubicle next to you playing temple run on his phone. Trust is part of a list of words that if blurted out at work, no one will blink an eye (Other “blurtable” workplace words include: strategic, leadership, customer, excellence, service, etc…). Unfortunately, like other really important corporate buzzwords “trust” is overused in daily speak and hence largely overlooked. Today, we aren’t going to look the other way. We’re gonna look “trust” dead in the eyes and see where we stand. Do others trust us? Do we trust others? You get the drift…

How does trust fit in with our theme this month? Simple. Trust is somewhere on a beach right now sipping a pina colada enjoying the smooth silky rays of the Caribbean sun. Where trust isn’t is at work. Most senior leadership today is having a very difficult time trusting others and that’s causing a unique set of problems and dysfunctions.

Ways Senior Management Doesn’t Trust Today

MICROMANAGING – Need I say more? I was talking with a SVP at a global technology company about her job and here’s what she told me, “I used to love my job. I’ve been doing this kinda work all of my career. But recently, it hasn’t been near as much fun or as fulfilling. The problem is the CEO. About twice a month I meet with him to go over my reports, analysis and recommendations on what we need to be doing. Instead of trusting me to do my job and using that time to really dig into options, scenarios and strategies, he literally pulls out his calculator and goes over all of my calculations. Talk about unmotivating.” Did I mention she was a SVP at the top of her field? Ridiculous…

WHO’S GOT THE “D” – A peculiar flavor of this “no trust” dysfunction has emerged over the last few years. I recently saw this with a room full of mid-level leaders at a large financial services organization. Here’s how it works. Senior management decides they want their team (VP’s, SVP’s, etc…) to operate with more ownership and initiative. After all, they are tired of feeling like everyone is looking to them for answers. Sounds good, right? The problem comes in when the question is posed back to senior leadership by their direct reports, “so, does that mean we also are empowered to make decisions? And what decisions can we make anyway?” Senior management often responds by saying they still want to make all of the decisions, they just want others to take more ownership and accountability. Frustrating to say the least.

Why Senior Management Doesn’t Trust

There are a couple of reasons why senior management doesn’t show much trust today. They’ll come as no surprise.

Reason #1 – They are afraid to take their hands off the steering wheel. They’ve been gripping the controls of the organization tightly to keep it from hurtling over the cliff. Now the time has come to loosen the group and get others involved. But they just can’t seem to do it.

Reason #2 – Trust = Vulnerability.  Vulnerability = Weakness and Risk. Vulnerability is hard without a doubt, but you can’t have trust without it. While I hate the idea of doing trust falls and other “ropes course-like” silliness, the concept is right on. Trust is about relying on someone else to catch you, support you and deliver on the results that you are held accountable for.

So, take a moment to imagine that you are the CEO and you don’t trust anyone around you. A moment of silence and sympathy for those leaders who are suffering from a reluctance to trust others. Why be sympathetic, you ask? Because those leaders have to be tired. The sheer volume of work they must be doing (everyone’s job after all) and the loneliness they must feel is not enviable. A lack of trust is exhausting and isolating.

Your Prescription

This particular dysfunction can be cured but it takes some intentionality and self-management.

If you are a direct report, consider the following:

  • Clarify what it would take for your boss to trust you. Ask him or her what trust “looks like” and how you could get there.
  • Share what it is costing you and them to operate without it. Let them know how frustrating it feels and unmotivating it is to know that you are not fully trusted.

If you are the senior leader, consider the following:

  • Rx3Think of one small decision that you can and should delegate to one of your directs. Start small. The key here is when you delegate it, really delegate it. Empower them to do it their way and make any necessary decisions. Hold them accountable for the results but leave the rest up to them.
  • Understand the difference between “quality checking” and “auditing.” Quality checking is the head chef that occasionally tastes the food to make sure it is up to standard. Perfectly fine for any leader. The auditor makes it his/her job to double check everything. Leaders can not afford to be auditors.
  • Avoid the “How” as much as you can and focus on the “what, when and why.” This is the perfect preventative measure to counter micromanagement.
  • Tell one person this week that you trust him or her. Simple in concept but I can’t tell you how many senior leaders I know that struggle with saying it. However, there are very few things that are music to one’s soul than to hear someone they respect say, “I trust you.”

One of the wonderful leaders I’ve gotten to work with over this past year is an absolute master of this. Whenever one of his direct reports comes to him with a problem, he quickly responds, “what do you think we should do?” After they give an answer, he says to them, “you are a seasoned and competent professional. You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t. I trust you to do the right thing and get it done.” And off they go with his blessing. The performance of his team, their loyalty and overall results of their organization in their market are off the chart.

Put in place these simple prescriptions and I promise you a turnaround of wonderful proportions.

Trust me.