Do Your People Trust You?

Trust has taken a hit lately in all facets of our lives, but especially in organizations. A dwindling level of trust between workers and leaders is one of the unfortunate consequences of financial mismanagement and economic meltdown within the working sector.

So, how can you tell whether or not your people trust you? Watch what they focus on. Do they pay more attention to their work—or to you? If they seem to be focusing more on what you are doing than on their own tasks, chances are they don’t entirely trust that you are there to help them succeed.

Make it clear to your staff that you are there to help and encourage them, not to judge them or nitpick their efforts. When you help people understand that as their leader, you work for them and will do whatever it takes to support and encourage them, they will be more empowered, innovative, and productive. And that’s a win-win for everyone!

Empowerment: The Key to Creating a Collaborative Culture

Effective leaders learn early in their careers that they can’t manage whole projects singlehandedly. They need an empowered team working collaboratively to achieve goals. In our new book, Collaboration Begins with You: Be a Silo Buster, my coauthors Jane Ripley, Eunice-Parisi Carew, and I explain the importance of empowering yourself as a leader and building collaboration by empowering your team.

In past blogs, I described the first four elements of the UNITE acronym that we developed to help describe what it takes to build a collaborative culture: Utilize differences; Nurture safety and trust; Involve others in crafting a clear purpose, values, and goals; and Talk Openly. Today I want to share more about the fifth element—Empower yourself and others.

When I think of a leader trying to go it alone, I imagine a crew team with only one oar in the water. It isn’t hard to realize that the boat isn’t going to get very far with only one person rowing. But, when all oars are in the water and team members are working together, the boat seems to glide over the water without effort. The same is true when a leader tries to manage all aspects of a project. Doing it alone just isn’t efficient. Having an empowered team take initiative and accept responsibility is the most effective way to not only reach goals but exceed them.

It is important to remember that a collaborative leader must still set work direction, resolve conflicts, and remove obstacles. However, with an empowered team the role of leader is to coach the team members and support collaboration. Leader and team members work together with a unified vision, complete trust in each other, and open communication in a truly collaborative culture.

How well do you think you are empowering yourself and your team? Ask yourself these questions.

  1. Do I continually work to develop my competence?
  2. Do I feel empowered to give my opinions during idea sessions, even if I disagree?
  3. Do I actively build and share my network with others?
  4. Do I share my skills and knowledge with other departments?
  5. Do I believe my work is important to the organization?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, you probably feel empowered yourself and serve as a role model for your team members to become empowered, too. If you answered no to any of the questions, think about what you can do to change your behavior. Encourage your direct reports to collaborate not only with team members, but also with others in the organization. I guarantee you’ll see people start to share knowledge, generate new ideas, and reach higher levels of performance—all in a culture of collaboration.

Collaboration Begins with You Book coverTo learn more about Collaboration Begins With You: Be a Silo Buster, visit the book homepage where you can download the first chapter.

Set Boundaries for an Empowered Workforce

Setting boundaries to help empower people might sound like a contradiction. When managed correctly, though, well placed boundaries can ensure a strong culture of empowerment for your entire company.

I’ve often said that a river without banks is a large puddle. If you empower people by setting them loose without any direction, they can lose momentum and focus—or, even worse, they can make costly mistakes or put a project at risk. Like the banks of a river, properly set boundaries will channel energy in the right direction so that people can take on more responsibility as they grow and develop.

The key to setting boundaries is to ensure people know the areas where they can be autonomous and responsible rather than focusing on things they are not permitted to do. Boundaries are based on each person’s skill level and are meant to help the person understand how their goals align with the overall vision and goals of the organization. Helping people see how their work fits into the big picture allows them to become peak performers.

It is also important for managers to explain the decision making process in an empowered culture. Some people think being empowered means they get to make all the decisions. They could be disappointed when the manager continues to make strategic decisions and leaves only some operational decisions to them. And they might hesitate to make decisions at all when they realize they will be held accountable for the results—both good and bad.

Yes, empowerment means people have the freedom to act, but it also means they are accountable for results. The right balance is to have managers continue making strategic decisions and get team members involved in making more operational decisions as they become more comfortable with assuming the potential risks involved. As people gradually accept more responsibility for decisions and consequences, managers can pull back on their involvement.

It takes a little time in the beginning for managers to establish boundaries for team members, but this investment has a huge payoff. The worst thing a manager can do is to send people off on their own with no clear direction and then punish them when they make mistakes. Don’t fall into that trap. Establish clear boundaries that will empower people to make decisions, take initiative, act like owners, and stay on track to reach both personal and organizational goals.