Tagged: teamwork

Trust Is Your Job

Trust

I’ve been thinking about trust recently after hearing two heartbreaking leadership stories:

If I Trust You, You’ll Cheat Me

In the first, the head of an organization’s branch sent out a message through his managers: no remote work during the holidays, even though the facility itself was essentially closed. As this message was shared, you could feel the deflation in morale across the entire branch.

Staff correctly interpreted this rule as a vote of no confidence. You’re all cheaters and I don’t trust you to get anything done. You’re just going to take vacation days and not document them. I don’t trust you unless I can see you are working. Making the situation worse, the message was phrased in a way that implied it was a worldwide rule. When word got out that other facilities were shutting down for the holidays or giving days off, it destroyed staff morale and exposed this manager’s lack of trust.

If I Trust You, I’ll Fail

In the second, a leader under pressure from her bosses turned her frustration on her team. The team had delivered a successful program a month before, except in the leader’s mind the success was due to her taking over the program halfway through planning. In her narrative, the team had let her down, and she had saved the day. She hadn’t trusted her team to deliver, so she did “all” the work herself.

She shared her perspective in surprise conversations with each team member. One described it as an ambush. Another reminded the boss that she had never even celebrated the completion of the program by thanking the team for its hard work. The boss’ response: there was nothing to thank the team for.

By getting stuck thinking of herself as the savior, she shrunk as a leader. She lost sight of the needs of her team, their talents, and their substantial work that she had simply repackaged into the final program. In situations like this, a cratering of morale isn’t the only result. They can be triggers for the disintegration of the team itself.

When trust disappears, it can cost organizations their very lives.

Being A Leader When Trust Falters

There are schools of thought that it is the employee’s job to earn trust from the manager. It’s just the opposite. It’s the manager’s job to cultivate trust.

Noticing you’re not trusting your team? As a leader, it’s your job to fix it.

Leadership means taking responsibility for the situation. And here’s a key point many leaders forget: responsibility doesn’t mean doing everyone’s work for them. If you’re doing that, you’ve surrendered responsibility. By doing it all, you’ve relieved your team of expectations and weighed yourself down with work that isn’t yours.

The boss in our second story shared that she felt like if she didn’t do all the work, she could never ensure that there would be a positive result. I empathize with the pressure she felt, and I thirst for her to see the greater possibilities of letting go of control: the wonders of using the full talents of the team, and the incredible upside of chaotically unexpected insights.

Your work is building teams and team behavior that create results. And trust.

This is the point where some team leaders are thinking “I can’t imagine ever trusting my team.” What if you did anyway? What if there is no way to actually be a compelling leader than to trust your team when you’re not sure you can?

Like our leader above. What if she set aside her perspective of “I can’t trust” and trusted her team to kick ass on the next project? What if she practiced expert management to maximize their talents? It might feel terrifying at first. There aren’t even any guarantees that the project would work out. What I know is that the team would be stronger at the end and more ready with each succeeding challenge.

Trust is always there to give, even if you don’t feel it.

That sounds hard. Yup. Sounds that way, and with practice it can feel easier. Amateur leadership is easy and ineffective. World class leadership cares enough that stepping up to “impossible” challenges is the only option.

So how do we fix things when we’ve lost trust?

Fixing Distrust

The solution comes down to courage and communication. It’s courageous leadership to hold back and not blame your team members for the situation. It’s courageous leadership to look deeply at the situation, be honest about your role and imagine what positive contribution you can make. And it’s courageous leadership to make that contribution.

More often than not, it’s going to be about communication designed to elevate the skills and leadership capacity of each member of the team. Diplomatic communication. Nonviolent communication. Some of your team members may not yet have the communication skills needed to thrive with you, and your challenge is to communicate anyway and support their growth. Becoming a better leader means summoning more courage and expanding your own willingness to communicate effectively, in service of trust.

And yes, sometimes it’s not going to work out. Sometimes people are not ready to contribute at the level needed by the team. Sometimes people are not ready to be trustworthy. And your team needs you to replace them, but only after you have shown tremendous leadership in owning the situation.

Trust Is Everyone’s Job

Trust

One more thing. This is for all of us on teams who are relieved by this article, that it’s the boss’ responsibility to fix things. Let’s go back to this statement from earlier: there are schools of thought that it is the employee’s job to earn trust from the manager. It’s just the opposite. It’s the manager’s job to cultivate trust.

I take that back. Leadership is the responsibility of every team member. So if you’re noticing something is off, look courageously at the issue and communicate to create the working experience you envision for the team.

Elite Action Series Part 2: The Together Issue

In the Elite Action Series, we explore elite athlete strategies you can apply to your life. I’ve used them all as I’ve accumulated 15 world championship titles in my sport. Last time, we explored the strategy of being systematic. This time, it’s about who is around us.

Strategy 2: Assemble Your Team

12619 Lemon Soda Drinkers
Photo by Arthur Coddington

Pro teams have legions of staff to handle all the details, freeing the players to focus on their training. The best individual athletes have the same thing. The fortunate ones with sponsorships and prize money build an entourage of coaches, physical therapists, practice partners and assistants to keep them focused, healthy and sharp. The rest of us without budgets need to be more scrappy to apply the same strategy. We invest in the best professional support possible and improvise when needed.

My sport thrives without big budgets and lucrative endorsement contracts. We play for the love of the game. Our friends are our support network.

I never had a formal freestyle coach, but I’ve received masterful coaching from my teammates. They had a vision for where I could take my game. They gave me feedback on what was working and what wasn’t, and they gave me ideas for new things to try.

When I trained with my competition team, we didn’t have choreographers. We invented our routines then relied on our critical eye – and the critical eyes of our friends and family to achieve excellence. When we felt the limitations of our bodies, we invested in yoga or dance classes. When we practiced, we didn’t have a team of assistants marking the field, keeping time and collecting video. Our friends were sometimes kind enough to run the video camera, and when they weren’t around we put the camera on the tripod and tried to stay in frame. After workouts, we didn’t have fancy cryotherapy chambers to help our recovery. We had bags of supermarket ice.

We weren’t stopped by the absence of structure. We assembled the team we could. We made it happen. Whatever it takes.

It’s the same beyond sports. The support that comes with our jobs may not be enough to support the elite level performance we want. Who’s on your support team? What’s missing between you and achieving greatness? What will keep you focused on the essential? Where are you willing to invest money for support? Who are you willing to ask for help?

World Champion Again

Photo by Jessica Ladoe
Photo by Jessica Ladoe

Last month I won two more world championships in Freestyle Frisbee, my 14th and 15th titles. I had the privilege of playing with three incredible, inspiring teammates this year – Jake Gauthier, Matt Gauthier and Dave Murphy. Though we knew our teams would contend for the titles, we had deep respect for our opponents. We knew we were in for battles. To win both titles was a dream scenario.
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