Trust me… the leader said

Is it not ironic how, as leaders, we expect our people to trust us? We know what we’re doing, we infer simply by the very titles on our business cards and emails signatures. ‘don’t worry’ we say ‘we have this.’ or ‘you don’t have all the information that we do so you just have to trust us.’ and more often than not our staff are disengaged and in truth… Do not trust us at all.

Often we forget that we hold their very futures in our hands, actions and decision-making processes, their mortgage payments, their rent payments, the clothes for their children and the food on their table. We say to them either by implication or in actual words ‘trust us; we know what we’re doing.’ and yet the very thing we expect from them can often be the very thing we don’t give in return. We don’t trust them.

Now, I can hear all the modernist, agile, people-focused, uber-cool managers out there screaming ‘Of course we trust our people, they don’t steal the stationary, we don’t need to micro-manage them’. It’s not micromanagement or stationery that I’m writing about, Its sincere trust.

That trust that we give to the closest people in our lives. Then I hear you say, ‘oh yeah like that person I married and then left me for the (insert reason here) and every other reason we have not to trust others. ‘no, iv been burned before and trust no one. People have to win my trust. Trust must be earned.’ 

Sadly we are all guilty of remembering the bad or challenging trust experiences we have had because often these have been the ones where we have learned something — a new management mechanism.

Through hardship we may have learned new coping skills, some of them good and some of them not so good, but the events that truly change our way of behaving are often the ones we remember, and sadly more often than not, they’re not always the good ones.

So we have teams of people, yes real people. They laugh, they cry, fear, sometimes feel vulnerable, often love someone, true love, their hearts break, their kids get sick, they experience tragedy. Real tragedy. In your lifetime as a leader, you are going to witness probably every kind of human emotion, sometimes all in one workplace. Above all that, they are trusted by others in their lives, and yes, it is trust, so they know how it feels. 

There is a picture of your people. Does it sound familiar ? could it be you as well? Or are you an automaton? The perfect leader who never experiences that in your life? If you answered in your head ‘yeah iv experienced some if not all of those things’ then guess what… we’re all the same. You are no different from them. 

So now we have identified that really we are all the same, then how can it be that we expect more from our people than we give in return? Where can that be correct? Or right? Or even productive? Hang on were all the same? Or are we?

If our teams don’t trust us, and we represent the organisation, and we do not trust them, who do we trust as leaders? Do we trust the politicians (i can hear them laughing as I type) do we trust our religious leaders ? do we trust the media? Social Media? Who do we believe? I ask you again. Sadly, in today’s world, it is hard to believe anything we see or hear, and we are told this over and over again. 

But our very existence relies on, the one thing that got us to where we are today, and that is trust. Tribes trusted hunters to bring back food, fight off opponents and keep the tribe alive. We trusted our parents (most of us) to get us through, we trusted our teachers (even if we didn’t like them) we eventually moved out into the world and trust became eroded because people let us all down. Products broke, companies lied to us.

If the world I have described is the world, we now live in then as leaders, surely we have a responsibility to help change this for the better. After all, this is what we ask our teams to do, put trust in us. So we must start to trust again, and it begins with our people. Sure we believe in our products and services because we can show that in data, its a tangible piece of evidence. But how can we show we trust people? And how can we measure the success delivered when we really do trust? 

Trusting them to turn up and sit at their desks for 8 hours a day is not trust. Trusting them not to have a 2-hour lunch instead of one is not trusting them, trusting them not to have a sick day when they are not ill is not trust. The reason this is not trust is that your thinking starts with the very thing you think they may be doing, almost guilty before being proved innocent. 

How about trusting them to deliver? In a way that suits them, with the freedom to make choices and the communication to allow them to fly? Start judging on output? If that involves a 2-hour lunch, a mental health day, being away from your line of sight for days on end, then really, so what? And tell them that you trust them, go on say it to them, face to face. Try this

‘Team I trust you, and I want you to fly, and I support you all the way, you lead I will follow, my job is to trust you and support you.’

You do trust them, right ? or are you starting to feel your skin go clammy? Based upon the way someone else may have worked with you? Guess what, your current people are not them. 

Reflect as a leader because maybe if they are not delivering, you may not be leading them the right way or the way that suits them. Everyone is different, and everyone responds in various ways to trust. Remember a lazy person is a lazy person no matter what management tools are in place; Stop trying to fit everyone into the same box, find out how people like to work and then TRUST them to work that way. There is a fantastic side effect of real trust.

Its called loyalty, and with a trusted and loyal team, you can move mountains.