In July, I wrote an article titled, “Three Powerful Words from a Leader: “It’s My Fault”, the article was about the importance of a leader owning mistakes. Continuing in the series, today I am going to write about three more powerful words from a leader: “I Trust You”.
We aren’t flawless, and pretending to be so is far from genuine. When we can admit our own failures it helps employees to not only be more realistic, but allows them to see that sometimes you need to take risks. And sometimes, you might fall a little short of where you intended.
It is one thing to lead by example, and share your flaws as well as your strengths. It’s an altogether different idea to put your trust in an employee to carry out a critical task, and then get out of their way.
In my time as a leader, I have had roles where I was the expert. I knew about the equipment and how it ran and how it failed. There are other times, however, where I had to trust the people that worked for me who had more expertise than me.
I am passionate about worker safety, and the value in simply allowing people to step back and say “I can’t do that safely”. At a thinking level, it seems easy to make that the norm. But realistically, employees know that when you shut down production, the company might be losing money. They become heroes in making sure the line keeps running, and take risks they shouldn’t. I knew that I didn’t know how to solve that problem, so I went looking for someone who could. I interviewed several people, and found a safety specialist who understood that changing behavior would have a much greater impact than any guarding or rules.
After three months on the job, our new safety leader came to me with a proposal to do something we hadn’t done in our company. He talked about “behavior-based safety” and I listened and considered what he was suggesting. Then I remembered the simple fact that I hired him because I didn’t know how to break through to the next level. I listened to his plan, and said “I trust you”.
It wasn’t long before our facility led the company in safety, and set the standard that allowed improvement everywhere in the corporation. All because one employee had an idea of how to do it differently, and because his leader was willing to let him do what he knew how to do.
I will never think about my legacy at work in terms of what i did. I much prefer to think in terms of what I gave others the opportunity to do. If you have people working for you, counting on direction for what to do, then you might not be getting the performance advantage. If you insist they develop capabilities that you don’t have, and then trust them to execute on those capabilities, I promise you that you will have a much stronger outcome.