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Do You Trust Your People Enough To Let Them Succeed?

by David Brock on August 13th, 2009

File this under “Practice What You Preach.”  Over the past few months, I’ve been involved with a small organization trying to achieve something very important.  It’s a very tough challenge with some degree of personal and professional risk to the team.  I’ve been advising them—perhaps more than advising them because of the significance of what they are trying to achieve.

The team has been struggling, we’ve been spending a lot of time trying to figure out what is going wrong and how to get back on target.  I’ve been watching plans, schedules and commitments, jumping in to lend a hand—whether it has been requested or not.  In reflecting on this, I realized a couple of things that were at the core of our probelm:

  • We were no longer focused on success.  We’re obsessed with not failing, all our discussions, all our plans, our focus is directed at not failing.   While it seems like wordsmithing, it suddenly struck me that we were no longer having conversations on what it takes to succeed.  We didn’t realize it, but a discussion focused on not failing is a very different discussion than the one on how to succeed.
  • As a sponsor of this project, I didn’t trust the team to not fail.  I kept parachuting in, albeit with the noblest of intention and the sincere desire to contribute.  I’d conduct reviews, discuss new ideas, throw myself into helping them.  Pretty soon I discovered that this was becoming my project, not the team’s project.  While I didn’t do this consciously, my behavior was saying to them, “I don’t trust you to not fail, I am here to help you not fail.”  It was demotivating and took away their ownership and joy in executing the project. 

Well, it hasn’t worked and won’t work.  After several hours of quiet reflection, thinking about “fixing” this issue, I discovered several things:

  • I was as much a part of the problem and driving the “failure,” as everyone else.
  • This was becoming my plan, my responsibility, my problem, not the team’s project.
  • My lack of trust was destroying the team and effectiveness.
  • Our—becoming my constant focus on not failing was keeping us from succeeding.

I just finished meeting with the team, we had a long painful discussion about what was going on.  At times it was painful to each of us.  We all wanted to succeed, we just had become unconscious of how our behaviors had changed our focus and direction.

I have made a new commitment to them and to myself:

  • It’s the team’s project, not mine.
  • The team needs to tell me how I can be most helpful to them, and I need to honor that.
  • Most difficult, I need to let go, trusting them to be successful.

Practicing what you preach is tough–and painful.

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6 Comments
  1. Steve Bent permalink

    Great article Dave,

    Fantastic level of honesty!

    • Steve, thanks for the comment. Sometimes as well intended as we are, we get in our own way and that of our people.

  2. I think you have to give them the basics and then say to yourself within what I have taught you, within those parameters be the most creative, be the best version of YOURSELF possible.

    Like a good parent, you raise your kids and then you have to trust them and let go. I feel a lot of parents try to control how their children think and act to satisfy their ego.

    I feel the education system is the same. Instead of giving you a lot of information we should teach kids how to find the information that they want.

    For example, instead of making students read a lot it’s better to make them able to read faster because it empowers you, you become a better reader thus more capable to read more of the stuff that YOU like.

    Like you said if you try to take care of your team all the time even if they succeed it will be your success and not theirs cementing their belief that they cannot do it without you thus creating dependency.

    it takes courage I think to figure out what you have figured out.

    Great post man, I will bookmark it.

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful comments. Trust has to start somewhere, probably it’s best that it start with the leader. Regards, Dave

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