How Managers Can Use Trust as a Tool
This is the third part in a series. Read the others:
The most powerful tool you have as a leader is trust. Who do you trust to get it done? Who trusts you to take care of them? Who don’t you trust? And how widely known is it who you do and don’t trust to do their jobs?
As a leader, you have a huge impact on your team’s self-confidence. And that self-confidence has a huge impact on job performance. You should take steps to raise your team’s self-confidence to help them be successful. One of the best ways to do that is to be strategic with how you communicate your trust.
People often say that trust is earned in drops and lost in buckets. That’s absolutely true. As a leader, though, you simply don’t have the time to extend trust only where it’s been earned. There are too many people doing too many things where you can’t check up on them anyway. Regardless of whether people have earned your trust, you’re forced to rely on them as if they have. The thing that’s in your control is how to communicate about that reality.
Trust is a tool in your toolbox. Use it well, and your team will surprise you.
If you explicitly extend trust, telling people you trust them to get the job done, they’re going to feel your confidence. They’re going to get creative in their effort to live up to your trust. The earlier you extend that trust (the riskier it is to trust), the more impact you can have on how people see themselves and their situation.
Your doubts are real, and you’re probably right to feel them as well as to work in the background to prevent the bad outcomes that keep you up at night. But those doubts, however real, aren’t going to help the people doing the work. By all means, share the risks you see, but share them as risks that you trust the team to mitigate, not pitfalls you’re afraid the team will be unable to avoid.
Trust and doubt can both be self-fulfilling prophecies.
Bluntly, it’s not the team’s job to manage your feelings. It’s yours. Their job is to deliver success, and burdening them with your feelings of doubt is only going to get in the way. Work on the things that make you doubt, but your doubts don’t have a role in the way you communicate to the team.
That doesn’t mean only giving positive messages or hiding problems from the team. It means giving trust to resolve the problems as part of your message. Don’t think the team can do it themselves? Give them the resources they need, and express trust once they’re well-equipped.
Doubt can paralyze the strongest contributors and keep them from doing not just their best work, but any work at all.
It’s a truism of leadership that you have to send out people to do things that they are worse at doing than you are (after all, you’re the one who got promoted). Partly, we trust people to do the work because it helps them do the work. We also do it because we simply have no other choice. We’re not going to be there when they do each task.
Eventually, no matter how we feel, we have to trust. Do it deliberately, use trust as a tool, and you’ll be an effective leader.
For more practical management advice born out of years of experience working with software teams in a wide variety of industries, download the e-book “Mindsets and Tactics for New Leaders of Software Teams.”