Team Development

Is it true that as a leader you have to trust, but verify?

Trust is such a contradictory feeling, we like to be trustworthy, but we are not trusting.  It happens everywhere, with all kinds of relationships.   Family, friendship, couples, acquaintances, work peers, almost every time human beings interact, there is this trust-not trust exchange in their minds.  Like any other habit, this is a hard one to break.  It has been developed upon years of lies, disappointments, and others.

To get trust, you have to freely give it.”  Bob Chapman

As a long time manager in manufacturing, one thing that I learned early in my career was to trust but verify.  I will trust people in their job, but I will go and check on them to find if they were doing what I ask.  Was I trusting my people?  Or was I giving instructions thinking that they will do something else, or that they don’t have the skills to figure it out on their own?  Either way, I was not trusting my team.  I learn that after years of learning continuous improvement. 

During my childhood, I spend a lot of time with my grandfather.  We had many conversations along the years on which he was trying to transfer his wisdom to me.  I did not know it back then, but he was setting the foundation for the future me.  He was trying to build a leader out of a shy and soft-spoken girl.  

There is one incident that I always remember as the day on which I learned how wonderful it feels to be trusted.  Every Saturday, my grandma will take me to Bible School, and while I was in class, she would go to see her clients (she was a beauty products seller), but by the time it finished, she was always there waiting for me.  One day, she wasn’t.  I wait, for a while, but by the time the church patio was empty, I was debating with myself if I should stay there or walk myself home. I saw a car driving through a couple of times, and when the driver asks me if he could drive me home, I decided it was time to take a risk and go home on my own.

It is an understatement to say that when my grandma arrives and did not see me, she was so nervous and desperate that she walked the mile and a half between the church and our house in record time.  I was there, still explaining to my grandpa why I did not wait.  My grandma hugs and kiss me, and then she yells at me, asking what I was thinking.  My grandpa asks her to listen first and understand my point of view.  After I explained what happened, he said, we educate her well, we teach her to trust her instincts, observe around her and use what she sees to adapt to each situation and learn.  You have been walking her all these years, was about time to let her do it on her own.  Trust that she learned and is responsible enough to recognize what she can do and when she should ask for help.

If you only trust your people with a competency you think they have, you’ll never give them the opportunity to show you something extraordinary.” Bob Chapman

Fast forward many years, and now I am in my first full-time job.  I was a team leader of a six people group, with no idea how to be a leader.  My father, who at the time, had more than twenty years of experience, told me the following.  “This is not easy, but always remember to treat people the same way you like to be treated.  Never ask your team to do something you are not willing to do yourself, show them respect by recognizing their knowledge and skills, but help them to grow and improve what they do, teach them, and trust”.

I always remembered the first part of his speech, treat people the same way you like to be treated, always has been my creed as a supervisor.  The bosses I had during the first few years of my career teaches me to trust but verify.  So that was what I did until I started to learn more about continuous improvement.  I was leading the lean implementation efforts with the help of a coach, who teaches me all the tools I could use.  Troubled with my doubts about how to deal with trust issues in the workplace, I asked, why do I build trust?

He made me remember that the most important thing on our journey was the people, not the tools.  Talking with him, I remembered the faces of all the people we help to learn new skills and do new jobs they never thought they could.  I have to think very hard to remember the success we had with process improvements and costs reduction, but I easily remember their happy faces for accomplishing something new and feeling trusted.  We show them that we care and that they matter.  That day, after the conversation with my coach, I remembered the words of my grandpa and my father, and I realized that I have to trust my people in the same way my grandpa trusted me.  That was part of treating my team the same way I like to be treated.

The need for being trusting and trustworthy is a critical concept for healthy relationships.  Values like respect, integrity, and kindness only have meaning if you show them regardless of your partner, coworker, or neighbor who has not shown them to you yet.  I think it is like a smile.  When you smile first, chances are the other person will smile too.  Even if he or she doesn’t smile the first few times, eventually they will.  As leaders, we need to trust our ability to explore new solutions, learn new tools, build self-discipline, and teach our team.  We also need to learn how to trust that they will do the right thing and that if they need help, they will ask for it.   After all, it feels so great to feel trusted!

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