“I’m Not Prepared To Trust Others Who Cannot Prove To Me That They Are Trustworthy First.” (Lesson 3)

When you work in an organisation for several years, you become a specialist in your field. Over time you get to know how a segment of the organisation works, and you know this extremely well. You have faith in your expertise, and you trust your instincts in this role.

As time progresses, you get promoted. Your role changes. Your perspective shifts. Your once-simple role becomes more complex. You also find that your specialist knowledge needs to become more generalist as you now span wider vistas and scaling your specialist knowledge in all these new areas is not possible.

Becoming a generalist has also made you doubtful of your ability to cope in this new context, which, in turn, erodes your trust in your own ability to perform. For some leaders, this leads to putting on a tough, professional exterior and adopting the ‘fake it until I make it’ approach.

But the reality is this exterior is transparent, and many people, including your team members, can see through this front. So, while it can sometimes feel demoralising to encounter challenges and not cope as well as you feel you should, it also exposes your vulnerability and allows others to see that you are not able to do all tasks equally as well.

Having experienced this firsthand as a leader myself, I know that I felt the need to show my team how devoted I was to my role. As a result, I would come into the office early, and I would always leave late to stay on top of all aspects of my role.

Sure, my work was always up-to-date, and I was often ahead in tasks, but I also projected a superhuman image made of unobtanium. This image displayed no vulnerability and indicated to my team that I didn’t trust in their abilities to do their work adequately. Fortunately for me, my team gave me this feedback, and I was able to take action to show that I did trust them and that I too didn’t always have all the answers.

Years ago, I also worked with a CEO who once was a specialist. He had detailed, specific knowledge, and yet when he became CEO, he found he was unable to practise and demonstrate this knowledge within his leadership team. It was a sizeable challenge for him to come to terms with this change, but by understanding that he couldn’t do the detailed work he once knew and loved, he also grasped that he was able to lead without being in the detail and, instead, could task others.

He had to establish trust in the abilities of his team to carry out their roles well, and in some cases better than he could due to being more up to date and close to the knowledge. If he didn’t trust his team, then the result would be a loss of productivity that would eventually erode the business profitability. 

Another CEO that I worked with faced a similar challenge. This CEO needed to get a new product out, and, at the same time, they also had to meet the expectations of several recent regulatory changes. These changes affected the launch of the new product so extensively there was a risk of it being rendered worthless.

As a specialist in the area the product catered to, the CEO found it difficult not to manage the product redevelopment, and difficult to delegate tasks to the team instead. But, knowing that such non-delegation would slow down the product revision and launch, the CEO called a crisis meeting with his team to resolve the problem.

With both the CEO and the team under extreme pressure to turn around the product so that it didn’t become obsolete, the CEO presented the problem of the new regulatory changes to the team and facilitated a discussion to come up with ideas to move forward. The team faced with this dilemma knew that they had to be both resourceful and swift to overcome the regulatory changes and enable the product to reach its fullest potential.

The resulting product suited the market and its needs and adhered to the regulatory changes. It was also nothing like the CEO had imagined. Trusting the skills of the team exceeded all expectations.