Trust Is Your Job


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


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.

Creating Deep Mastery from Repetition: Problem Solving

Repetition Opens Up Elegant Solutions

This is the fourth and final article about using repetition toward deep mastery. So far, we have explored discipline and expertise and expression. Repetition can take us to an even deeper level when we integrate it with problem solving.


It’s easy to be expressive when things are going right. Things are flowing. We’re in a rhythm using our skills, connecting it to how what we want to express.

Then shit happens.

Have you logged enough repetitions that you can adapt? Level 4 is about getting past challenges.

At first, simply continuing when problems arise is hard. We don’t even know what to do when things go wrong. We get confused. We panic. Most of us need to experience an emergency to know how to get out of one. Pilots use flight simulators for this. They use traditional classroom and book instruction to learn the solutions in different scenarios. Flight simulators make the scenarios real. Their repetition is about learning to stay calm under pressure. They fail and learn from it. In some ways, it’s a repeat of Level 2 – learning the skill of fixing things.

Becoming adept enough to find solutions is good, but the beauty of problem solving is when it goes beyond fixing to elegance and creativity.

Being calm under pressure is valuable. Being creatively calm is invaluable. It’s what lets you land a plane in the Hudson River.

Raw, undirected talent dismisses mistakes. At Level 4 we notice their potential. Creativity is the goal of repetition here. Turning accident to advantage.

This is where Picasso decides it’s a problem to draw a bull the same way over and over again and reduces it to 9 brushstrokes.

This is where Bode Miller skis himself off the downhill race course and uses the netting on the side of the course to ricochet back into contention.

Without comparing myself to Picasso or Miller, I’ve been fortunate to experience this area of Level 4 often. In fact, the entire idea of freestyle at its highest level is to create the biggest problem for ourselves to see if we can elegantly get out of it. Sometimes there is an elegant solution, other times a clumsy mess. The more I give myself big problems to solve, the more elegant solutions show up.

When my team prepares for the world championships, I’m on the lookout for fortunate mistakes. Some of the most memorable planned moments start as mistakes. “Wait, that wasn’t supposed to happen, but it would be cool if we did it on purpose.” We shift course and use repetition to create something fresh out of the mistake.

Many people are uncomfortable in chaos. Most businesses have low tolerance for chaos. They want clarity, a focus on the known, predictability. And they are rarely the businesses known for innovation. Innovative businesses leave space for chaos. Allowing staff to fumble around with new concepts and search for better answers includes a risk of failure and also opens up space for big breakthroughs – seeing new markets, inventing new approaches to treating disease, finding better ways to talk to one’s customers.

The deepest mastery is courageous in its curiosity and experimentation. It doesn’t settle or shy away from the unconventional. It’s about uncharted territory. It is both discerning and playful. While engaging in this level of repetition can feel terrifying, it’s just as likely to be exhilarating and fulfilling.

If discipline is where we become skillful. Expertise is where we become solidly competent. Expression is where we become memorable. This territory of problem solving transcends all of them. This is the level where we have a chance to be legendary.

Why Extraordinary Goals Matter

American swimmer Katie Ledecky is rewriting the record books of women’s distance swimming. This week, she set two world records at the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships. The Olympic gold medalist is not just winning races, she is making people rethink what is possible. This summer, she has set five world records. In the last year, taken 16 seconds off the world record in the 1500m freestyle.

Extraordinary Goals Redefine What’s Possible

Ledecky is a phenomenon, a spectacular talent, and we can learn about goal setting by watching her performances. Her world records are check-ins on her training. She’s building toward these mindboggling times. They are intentional. Unlike most athletes, she is not aiming at incremental improvement. At some point, she and her coach realized how much upside was available and set extraordinary, revolutionary goals.

In my sport, I’m known for doing tumbling moves. I’ll spin the disc on my finger, pop it up, spin around, do a somersault and get the disc spinning back on my finger. I learned that move – and the double spinning tumble – from watching another top player, Dave Murphy. Once I got used to that move, I imagined an entire family of moves beyond my existing skill level. How about a triple spinning tumble? What if I did more difficult tricks after the somersault, like a very technical trick called The Juice. What about doing the tumbles directly from restricted moves like a behind the back set or a pass we call the Yogi? What about a quadruple spinning tumble?

Thinking of these moves created extraordinary goals. Once I imagined them, they became possible. From that moment on, freestyle was not just about getting better at the expected. It was about claiming new territory. I began to figure out the training and skills needed to make these ideas real. The training plan emerged from the idea, and the training plan was more ambitious than before. All those ideas became real moves, and I trained many of them well enough to try in competition. Here’s a triple spinning tumble from a beach session a few years ago:

The Goal Creates The Plan

Back to Katie Ledecky. She’s training toward the 2013 season. The six-year old world record is 15:42.54 by Kate Ziegler. She realizes not only that she can break it but that she can reset the standard. She doesn’t train for 15:42.53. That’s not worthy of her vision. She trains to destroy the record and does just that. She takes 9 seconds off Ziegler’s time.

Cool. Now what? The best time to consolidate your greatness is after a big victory, when most people would be resting on their laurels. She reimagines reality. The new record is 15:36.53. She sets her sights way beyond that for 2014 and gets to work. People are amazed when she takes another two seconds off the world record at meet in June, but it’s just a glimpse of what she’s been training toward. Two months later, we see the next payoff of her training at the Pan Pacific Championships with this new world record: 15:28.36. No man had swum that fast until 1975. It would have placed 18th in the men’s 1500m race at this year’s US Championships. Extraordinary goal for 2014 completed!

I don’t know whether Ledecky is scheduled to swim any more races this year, but I can’t wait to see how she redefines her own potential. Whether or not she hits her goal, the goal will be huge and confident and courageous.

Applying Extraordinary Goals Outside Sports

As sports fans we cheer for achievements like Ledecky’s. What we don’t do often enough is apply sports lessons to our everyday lives. But if we look to community and business leaders, we can see extraordinary goals in action.

Elon Musk imagined a world where electric vehicles are the standard, and we’re seeing him pursue that vision. The success of Tesla vehicles was only one chapter of his plan. We’re beginning to see that they are part of a complete reimagining of transportation infrastructure.

The fight for marriage equality shows us how extraordinary goals become reality in society. For most people, same sex marriage was an alien concept until very recently. But for the leaders of the marriage equality movement, it was an idea. A seemingly impossible idea, but one that they as leaders could not betray. By imagining marriage equality, however improbable, they set the wheels in motion. And here’s the important part: it didn’t succeed at first. Just having an extraordinary idea does not guarantee its success. I can imagine swimming faster than Katie Ledecky, but all it guarantees is that my personal likelihood of achieving that goal just increased by some unmeasurable amount. It became possible, not guaranteed or even probable until I create the right plan and execute on it. Progress toward marriage equality included setbacks, and the action plan toward this extraordinary goal evolves with each piece of new data.

Think about your skills, your projects, your aspirations. What are you aiming for now, and what ridiculously bigger result could you imagine. What new territory are you willing to claim? Now, what would it take to get there? Remember, you already made a good portion of the journey just by imagining a bigger goal. How would it feel to experience that huge result? How would it change things to embrace the ridiculous and go after it?