Management Skills: Trusting Others

When I first became a manager at the age of twenty, I tried to make friends instead of managing my team. That was a miserable failure.

Then I tried to manage without building relationships. I thought I had it all figured out until I received the results of my first employee satisfaction survey. People described me as unapproachable and intimidating. I started changing my ways the day after I read that survey feedback.

Since then I’ve realized that leadership is really about effectively managing relationships. It’s no wonder employees rank their relationship with their supervisor as their number one retention factor (see Bernthal’s 2001 benchmarking study). So the question is, how can I effectively build relationships with my team members?

The laws of physics govern the world we see around us –– tiny particle physics and the physics of the vast cosmos. Micro and macroeconomics explain how people use scarce resources to maximize utility. And the laws of trust –– trusting others and being trustworthy –– explain how relationships either thrive or wither away.

I learned this two-step process of trust from Kouzes and Posner’s excellent book “The Truth About Leadership.” In relationships, one person has to take the first step and give their trust to the other. In management, that first person is the leader.

Trusting others is scary, especially if you are ultimately responsible for the consequences. Like Indiana Jones stepping onto the invisible bridge at the end of “The Last Crusade,” leaders have to take the first step and trust their followers –– even when the leader’s reputation is on the line.

I’m working on this right now. I’m trying to give my direct reports more (or maybe all) of the say in goal-setting and planning. Next, we review outcomes together with a heavy dose of positive feedback. Then start the process over – I give them my trust again.

What does this sound like? I am saying things like “I trust your judgment,” “Let’s try it your way” and “This is your specialty; you lead the way.”

It is scary. What if they screw up? I tell myself if they fail we will all learn and become better leaders. Next week I’ll talk about the second step: being trustworthy.