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Trust, Not Control

If you live your life honestly and truthfully, you'll be open and transparent, which leads to trust.

– Dalai Lama

It is common for better leaders to take a step back from the perils of micromanagement, but in many organizations, controlling managers are still accepted and even expected. When we attempt to control every scenario and possible outcome, we fall into a bottomless “what if ” pit and end up spending more time and effort on contingency plans than we would to handle an unexpected situation. At the same time, over-managed employees feel undervalued—an accurate assumption, since in control environments the power of their brains is not being utilized to its potential.

The purpose of a leader is to define and manage principles and vision. In effect, a leader’s job is to create the guardrails of the wide superhighway, not to drive the car. Respect your employees by giving them the control to develop and execute the plans required to drive down the highway. Mentor and provide oversight, but don’t try to execute others’ jobs. Allowing employees to do their jobs requires trust and acceptance that there may be multiple ways to complete a task. Providing a safe environment for managers to take acceptable risks and to make the occasional failure creates learning opportunities and growth, another aspect of respect for people.

You can also create trust by being authentic, which I already discussed. Listen without judgment and engage in real discussion. Hold yourself to a high character, ethical, and moral standard, and admit when you fail. Model good behavior and do what you say you will. Know what matters and show appreciation in a way that impacts people as individuals.

When I was dealing with the difficult family medical situation and had to be out of the office for a couple weeks at a time, often unable to even have phone conversations, I had to trust my team to manage a complex business. They did fine without me. Sure, I might have done some things differently, but not necessarily more optimally. Occasionally, the guardrails had to be tweaked or narrowed, but it was rare. How liberating it was for me, during that time of crisis and afterwards, to be able to trust my team!

You might be surprised to hear that you can lead better, personally and professionally, by doing less. Think about what more you could accomplish by relinquishing control and trusting others to do their jobs. Can the value of leadership be redefined so less is actually more?