Owning Up to a Lack of Trust

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Last week I outlined how several business owners spend their time: doing things they shouldn’t be doing simply because they do not trust the people that work for them to do things correctly.

While the airline industry is often a punching bag for poor customer service, it still breaks all records when it comes to building and maintaining the trust of its stakeholders.

The ultimate measure of trust is to be a nervous flyer and still get on an airplane and take a flight.

As a passenger, you have to trust the manufacturer of the airplane (which includes many supplier companies); the airline that owns, operates and maintains the plane; the flight crew that flies it; the air traffic controllers and the various ground personnel involved in ensuring safe takeoffs and landings.

The funny thing is that as a passenger, odds are pretty good that you don’t know any of the people responsible for building, maintaining and flying the plane. Your life and the lives of your loved ones are in the hands of total strangers. Yet, every day, over two million people fly on commercial flights in the United States.

We can fly with confidence because, as an MIT professor pointed out, “a person would have to fly on average once a day every day for 22,000 years before they would die in a U.S. commercial airplane accident.”

Last week I mentioned business owners who incorrectly think the best use of their time involves reviewing time cards, questioning $50purchase orders, and checking to make sure that that the lowest wattage light bulbs have been installed throughout the building. Clearly, they don’t trust their employees to do the jobs they’re on the payroll to do.

We’re talking about a business owner willing to put his life in the hands of total strangers when flying on a commercial airliner, but unwilling to trust an employee to get a $50 purchase order correct. What is wrong with this picture?

The best-selling book, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” by Patrick Lencioni, outlines the main reasons why teams fail. They are absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results.

The basis of substantial human relationships is trust. Without it, there is nothing. With it, all things are possible.

So if the owner of the business cannot trust, depend or count on an employee to do what is needed, who owns the problem?

Clearly any employee working at a company knows something isn’t right when the boss checks everything being done down to the smallest detail.

In this atmosphere, the employee is going to quickly lose any initiative they might have to do a better than expected job on any task, and they aren’t going to risk incurring the wrath of the boss.

I know — I’ve been in that situation.

To be clear, it’s the owner who owns the problem, and it is a problem.

“If we don’t trust one another, then we aren’t going to engage in open, constructive, ideological conflict,” Lencioni writes. “And we’ll just continue to preserve a sense of artificial harmony.”

Now it could be that the boss doesn’t want to engage in open, constructive conflict, which takes place in conversations and discussions about the best ways to achieve things in the company.

That is the owner’s prerogative. This attitude can be distilled down to statements like “My way or the highway,” “I’m not interested in changing anything,” and “this is MY company!”

I’ve been there too. But I didn’t stay for long.

In a business where the boss doesn’t trust his or her employees, it turns out the employees don’t trust the boss either.

The best employees, the ones who are first and foremost trusting and trustworthy, the ones with initiative, drive, dreams and energy, will leave. They’ll go someplace where those attributes are recognized and appreciated.

The rest will stay. Those employees will do the minimum required and do their best to avoid their boss, who doesn’t trust them.

Which company do you want to lead? And which kind of employee do you want working for you, serving your customers?

Ken Keller is a syndicated business columnist focused on the leadership needs of small and midsize closely held companies. Contact him at [email protected]. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of this media outlet.

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