How To Trust Your Team

Feeling isolated as a leader?

Been called a micromanager?

Have a sense that the weight of the whole organization is on your shoulders?

I’m willing to bet you have an issue trusting your team.

Trust is a big topic and there are lots of excellent resources that explore the intricacies of why it is important and how to establish, maintain, and rebuild trust. (It’s even one of the 5 Elements of Healthy Culture in my book). But you probably don’t need a broad overview of theory right now. So here are some quick practical tips.

Think of trust as a combination of Character and Competence. High trust happens when we believe that someone will do their best (Character) and that their best is good enough to get the job done (Competence). If either of those is lacking, trust is weakened.

We can work with people we don’t completely trust but it requires us to invest extra time and energy in double checking their work or their motives. That can be effective if it leads to higher trust, but it is demoralizing if it doesn’t.

Think of the key person on your team you have the hardest time trusting right now. Is the issue primarily a matter of character, or competence?

Character Issues

If you don’t believe they are acting with proper ethics and integrity you need to confront them. Calling out character issues is something many leaders find very difficult but the alternative is to let things slide, constantly doubt them, erode your team culture, and repeat the cycle indefinitely. Character issues rarely resolve on their own.

Confronting character issues requires courage, tact, preparation, and personal integrity. It is not easy, but it is a core leadership competency. If you can’t bring yourself to do so; or you can’t do it well, invest in some training or coaching for yourself. There are several excellent models available. I find both Fierce Conversations and Crucial Conversations to be very helpful, (with a slight personal preference for Crucial Conversations).

Competence Issues

If you don’t believe your team member is competent you need to train them. Covering up sloppy work or avoiding giving proper authority to someone because they aren’t ready is a sign of your own poor leadership. Invest in developing your people. Give them the resources and opportunities to grow their skills and see what happens. Expect them to succeed.

Helping people find roles that match their abilities and temperament is one of the superpowers that distinguishes excellent leaders. Profiling tools like Myers-Briggs, Kolbe, or DISC, (when used for find the proper fit rather than for pigeon holing people or assessing their performance), can be very insightful for everyone involved, but ultimately competence comes down to getting the job done. 

If you’ve established clear expectations for both character and competence, made a real investment in someone, and given them the fair opportunity to earn your trust, and they haven’t done so it is time to make a change. You may be able to find a workable alternative for someone who has character but lacks competence, but someone continually lacking in character probably need to be dismissed.

Your cause is too important to be diminished by your lack of trust in your team. Make a commitment to not letting it continue. Either do what it takes to build trust, remove those that can’t be trusted, or depart yourself if you can’t (or won’t) do the hard work required.

Trust me, trust matters that much.