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Sharpen Your Role as Manager

Show Trust to Earn Trust

Trust is a lot like faith. You can have faith in people only if you don’t try to control their actions, Eric Chester points out in On Fire at Work. The moment you begin to monitor their every move, out goes that faith.

It’s no surprise that many employers don’t really trust their employees. After all, it’s the employer’s business, their department, their division at stake. It’s their butt on the line if something goes wrong.

Trust is the foundational element of any healthy relationship. For the relationship to work, both sides need some independence –– some autonomy –– lest they suffocate from too much smothering.

Where the problem comes in is when leaders want their employees to give their all while doing exactly what they’re told –– no more, no less.

In this day and age, some companies still expect employees to be humbly submissive and overly dependent on their managers’ orders and oversight. The way they see it, employees are like children: watched so they don’t misbehave. Halted in their tracks before they ever make a mistake. Employees arrive late, take long lunches, slack off, don’t care about what’s good for the company, and take every opportunity to exploit any chink in the carefully constructed corporate armor so they can kill time and goof off. Then to top it all off, they leave early if no one’s watching. The way managers see it, they have to crack the whip in order to keep the place from becoming a freewheeling fun fest or a sea of inertia.

Let’s be clear: Employees who behave and act this way do exist. Want them to do the jobs they were hired to do instead of breaking their backs to get the hell out of Dodge? Leaders who are seeking on-fire performance from their employees need to be the ones to lead the charge. They need to show trust in order to earn trust.

On-fire employees –– the kind you’re looking to hire and keep –– are looking for some latitude to make decisions in the workplace. The best companies in the world, in turn, trust and empower those employees to think and act on their own –– everyone wins!

Take the best elements of entrepreneurism –– independence, creativity, passion and a desire to succeed –– and match them with each employee’s day-to-day responsibilities. Then build a workplace environment where all of those employees perform as if it’s their own company. A culture of autonomy involves not just trust from the employer but also accountability from the employee.

It’s a two-way street. Telling employees they can start working in the way that fits them best without providing any guidance or overarching goals is like giving them permission to jump out of a plane without a ‘chute. Cultures that promote autonomy need employees to work toward targeted, concrete objectives –– priorities and deadlines set by the company or manager.

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