Do you trust the people who report to you?
While every leader faces this question, too often the question is framed within the context of right vs. wrong. That is, do you trust your employees to make honest and ethical decisions? In my experience the question of trust should more often be about managerial competence than personal morality.
The trust issue is even more important these days as organizations strive to grow with leaner staffs and fewer resources. The margin for error is slim to none.
Here's an example of what I mean. You notice that a team that reports to one of our direct reports is having difficulty getting a project done on time and on budget. You speak to your direct report--the team's boss--but he seems unable to spot the problem. He is too trusting of his team and lets the members do whatever they want to do. Because the team has always performed well in the past he assumes they will figure out how to get their project back on track. The boss has become too trusting, while you as his boss are losing trust in his leadership as well as the capability of the team.
There is no right and wrong in a moral sense here. It is an issue of managerial poor-performance. Too often I have seen managers let such issues slide because they do not want to confront their people or because they "trust" they will get the job done.
Neither is a good solution. A better alternative is a coaching session, and here are some recommendations for how to conduct one.
Get the whole story. Invite your direct report to tell you his side of the story. This is especially true when things go wrong. Sometimes the manager is clueless; he may be so wrapped up in details that he has lost the bigger picture. For example, he may think he is shepherding the project when it reality he is juggling details and not completing the whole task.
Make suggestions. Ask what the manager will do to rectify the situation. One executive I know makes it a point to teach his people how to ask the right questions at the right time. Such questions are those that challenge assumptions, not in a hostile manner, but in ways that encourage open and honest discussion. Such questions open the mind to alternate ways of thinking.
Gain agreement. Insist on a plan of action. Make certain that it includes specific assignments as well as metrics and milestones, where appropriate. Specificity is essential when it comes to performance improvement.
These action steps, as long as they are backed with strong follow-up, will work but your job as manager is not over. You need to remain vigilant about how your direct report is managing his team. Importantly, you need to find a way to engage this team in ways that enable them to succeed without intense supervision. This means building a value system in which people hold one another accountable for results. When teammates do this, they keep each other engaged. They reinforce their sense of purpose by getting the job done right.
Trust is a bond between individuals or between teams and their supervisors. It can never be expected, nor imposed. It is earned through example and reinforced through success as well as recognition. Vigilance to trust is an essential component of leadership.