I was recently working with a group helping define a digital roadmap and growth strategy. My direct contact was a C-level leader in the organization who talked a lot about trust with their team; how important trust was and how it added cohesion to a team.
As someone observing the culture, it was interesting to note, whether discussing software implementation or advertising decision making, that that trust was a one-way street. The leader expected and asked for trust and “loyal” support, delegated responsibility well, but then did not trust the team. So the authority to make decisions wasn’t delegated to the direct reports.
As a newcomer to the environment, but with a fairly long-tail career, it was disturbing to see competent employees trying to guess at appropriate solutions. Not necessarily the solution that their experience would dictate but a solution that would win their boss’s approval. Now, I had had the luck when I was at Nike and just beginning my corporate life to have @LizDolan as a boss. And my experience with Liz as boss was very different.
I still remember Liz saying to a group of new directors, that we had been hired because we got the brand and it was now our responsibility to make the decisions that would grow it. She was clear that she was going to let us succeed (or fail) on our own because that was the only way the company could scale. She did also say that she wouldn’t fire us for making a mistake—unless we made the same mistake twice.
I really took that lesson to heart because she trusted us, I trusted her to be fair and provide the needed direction when asked for that would be both in the best interest of the company and yet would also help us newbies navigate the Nike matrix with relative savvy. When I lead I try and take that standard to heart: hire the best people you can, challenge them, guide them, and trust them. Someone I worked with years ago at a big agency left me a going away note that said in the PS “keep inspiring the f**K out of people”. It was the highlight of my time there but had come because I earned it sticking up for her research and insights all the way up to the CEO.
So when I work with someone that second guesses their team while talking about trust, I see fear, I see lots of vacillation, and I see resources wasted in bright minds floundering. But I don’t see trust being built and I do hear a lack of authenticity in the rallying cry because trust isn’t asked for it must be given.
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