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Well…I don’t trust you!


A few months back, I witnessed an almost invisible example of trust. It was late afternoon and my team and I were meeting with the Vice-President (VP), Marketing,  of a small company. It was a very informal meeting. Just when we entered into an important phase, the VP’s cell-phone buzzed.

Without taking his eyes off my team, the VP slid the phone towards a team-member on his right and continued listening to us. The team-member took the phone and his writing pad, and gently excused himself out of the room. Minutes later he re-joined us and placed the phone between him and the VP. The phone did not ring for the rest of the meeting.

A few things impressed me. The VP did not have to instruct the team-member. He trusted the team-member would deal appropriately with the call without being instructed.

Importantly, the VP did not even tell his team-member something like, “See what it is. Let me know right away if it’s urgent. Else, remind me at the end of the meeting.” Nothing. He trusted the team-member would understand if the phone call needed urgent attention of the VP; he need not be instructed in detail.

Everything was conveyed in one single, muted, effortless gesture that was almost invisible.

There was something more too. I knew the company was so small they had no formal soft-skill training program that could strengthen qualities like team-spirit or trust. And yet, they had successfully been able to build such qualities.

I don’t need to tell anyone how important it is for organizations to build internal trust. But that day I learned something deeper. Trust is not just about knowing that sales guys won’t abuse their expenses accounts or your engineers won’t disclose important business secrets to your competitors; it’s a lot more.

Trust is reflected in the outcomes of your training

How much of hand-holding do you do once the training ends? Training is expected to prepare the employee for the job. Once the training ends, managers should be able to withdraw, and the new hires can be expected to begin performing independently.

Many managers don’t realize their team-members should evolve into becoming problem-solvers. And to be problem-solvers, employees must start thinking on their own.

Spoon-feeding the employee will prevent them from doing things independently. Soon, they will keep coming to their managers for the tiniest of solutions, and gradually turn lazy or increasingly under-competent.

Every time a manager steps in to resolve something that could have been handled by the new hire, they’re doing themselves and the hires a disfavor.

Trust employees to find solutions by themselves. Too much of hand-holding means you either don’t trust the employee or don’t trust the training process.

Trust is visible in delegation

Over my years as the founder-CEO of a gaming company, I have come to realize being an entrepreneur is mostly about right delegation. By delegating tasks that can be taken care of by reports, a manager can take up tasks that are both critical and require his/her own attention. Delegation frees you to focus on things that matter more.

But it’s not easy to delegate the right way.

Even when leaders have the right people, they are unwilling to fully let go.

In my early days, I would lead the design team and have my views as final because I thought my team wasn’t up to speed. I would watch and critique their designs and listen to the team, but I would have the final say.

This went on for quite some time. Suddenly one day my team categorically told me my inputs weren’t adding much value and they were probably better off without me.

I was stunned, perhaps even offended, by this remark. Here I was, helping them come up with better designs. And they wanted me to stop contributing!

It took me some time understanding that I was forcing my views upon them, because of which they were unable to do things by themselves. By forcing my view upon them, I was preventing them from developing the courage to make decisions. By being too helpful, I was refusing them an opportunity to develop.

I thought I was delegating, but in reality, I was only keeping them dependent upon me. That’s not delegation.

When you delegate, trust your team to come up with something great. Step away and just let the team take over. Unless there is a huge, huge blunder, don’t go around telling them what will work and what won’t. In the process, they might make mistakes, but that’s ok.

Trust them, they’ll learn.

Trust is evident in reporting and approvals

“How’s the project coming up? I’d like to have a look.”

“Send me a weekly report on how you guys are doing.”

“Show me the report before you publish it.”

“I’d like to have a look at the quotation before it’s submitted.”

These are regular, harmless sentences, a part of daily communication in almost every office. Nothing unusual, just routine requests by managers for information. And it’s important too. After all, how can leaders be on top of things, manage their tasks and guide their people unless they have all the information?

Behind these simple requests for information, however, are questions that need to be addressed.

Is it always necessary for my team to keep me in the loop? Unless I’m genuinely adding value, what purpose does the sharing serve? Am I feeling insecure?

Don’t I trust the abilities of my subordinates to come up with that complete project report, that updated research, that perfect quotation?

When I think I will still need to add a finishing touch here or point out a slip there, am I not showing a lack of trust in my team?

Let’s say a subordinate comes to you with a blog post she’s just written for the company blog. She wants you to have a look, point out areas for improvement and approve it before publishing it.

Sounds fair.

Ask her whether she’s fully satisfied with the post. If she isn’t, ask her how she can improve it and what’s stopping her from doing that. But, on the other hand, if she is indeed satisfied, do you still need to read it? Is she capable enough to write sensible stuff, honor the company code and produce the right piece of content? If yes, why would you need to read it? Why not publish it right away?

Letting go of approving things liberates you. It puts an implicit trust on employees and lets them grow.

Originally posted on Linkedin.


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