Catalyst, Leadership

My Bosses Rarely Read this Blog

I didn’t get much accomplished from a work perspective last week. I spent several hours dealing with my first ever “at fault” car accident, shopped for a car to replace the totalled one, fulfilled an old promise to take my nephews to the zoo, and celebrated my son’s 4th birthday at least three times. But I didn’t spend as much time or energy on Catalyst as I usually do, or as I’m expected to. On Wednesday night I prepared my regular weekly update for our Thursday meeting and had to decide whether to “pad my stats” my emphasizing or exaggerating what did get done. My employers have given me a lot of freedom in my role and honestly don’t know much about the day to day activities that are involved in pursuing our targets. They have high standards and are extremely productive in their own work and life. When you work in a small organization you know that staying on the boss’ good side is fairly crucial. I started the Thursday meeting by admitting that I’d been distracted and unproductive. I didn’t make any excuses, just told them I hadn’t done what is properly anticipated. The response: “We’re pretty sure there are lots of weeks when you do a lot more than what’s required. Don’t worry about it”. There is no more valuable resource to any leader than trust. With it you can take action immediately and decisively when necessary and occasional errors are accepted and quickly passed. Without trust there are an endless series of clarifications, justifications, and hesitations. Trust is the essential secret leadership currency. In our High School Leadership Program we describe trust as being like a bank account. Deposits tend to be small, withdrawals much larger. Our life experiences and beliefs predispose some of us to trusting more easily or not at all. I make a point of telling my employers when I mess up because doing so allows them to trust that I’m aware of their expectations, I want to fulfil them, and they don’t have to worry about hearing about my mistakes from someone else. Coupled with a track record of performance that gives us a healthy working dynamic in which they can provide all that freedom and rest assured that they will be pleased with the results. In a number of the organizations we work with I observe leaders who have struggled in various ways with the level of trust they maintain among staff, donors, and other stakeholders. An inability to gain and keep trust is the surest sign for me that there tenure as a meaningful leader is over. Fortunately, in the majority of cases trust can be restored with some personal recognition and attention to communication issues. If an organization seems bogged down, unproductive, or in a negative cycle it’s well past time for the leader to be asking: Do you trust your team? Do they trust you?