New Leaders: Trust…Or BUST

John Whitaker Leadership 0 Comments

Continuing a stream-of-consciousness series about the “new boss” coming on board, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the importance of the team you inherit. No matter the “suitcase” filled with the inherent skills you bring to the job, a great deal of your success depends on the people now carrying out your charter. 

This is where you revisit any of your “non-negotiables” as you evaluate your new (and most likely inherited) team. I’m here to tell you that first and foremost on that list should be trust. The difference between having a team that works for you vs. a team that trusts you is exponential. Likewise, your ability to trust them shapes everything you do: the way you communicate, the information you share, the liberties you extend, the grace you give, and your ability to effectively lead. It’s not your job to accomplish every objective – it’s your job to lead your team to accomplish the objectives. That’s more than delegation, that’s trusting those people who can make or break your documented performance.

It’s a simple battlefield reality; you can’t lead a team from the front if you fear “friendly fire” from the back. 

And we see this play out in all different professions. As the NFL officially kicks off their 2020 season, inevitably a commentator will remark on the “trust” a Quarterback has with a specific receiver. He knows his trusted counterpart will be where he needs to be, when he needs to be there, and can be counted on – these are the guys that are targeted on 3rd down. Coincidentally, this “trusted” receiver is more often than not the most gifted athlete of the bunch. There is superstar talent all over the field, but there is something about having a reliable option instead of the deep threat that transcends pure ability. Make a note for any team you watch – if a QB doesn’t have that one trusted receiver, you can bet that the team is not in the upper echelon of the league. Trust transcends talent.

In Simon Sinek’s amazing book “The Infinite Game” he uses the Navy Seals as an example of a world-class unit that actually values trust over performance. Seriously. It’s a pretty simple matrix to use, the “performance vs. trust” matrix. And while everyone would ideally love to have “high performance” and “high trust,” the Seals discovered something else; they would rather accept “medium” or even low performers with high trust than they would a high performer with low trust. It seems that even the highest performing technical Seal candidate could not overcome the low trust barrier. Sinek describes why, and it should immediately be applicable to the candidates and/or employees you evaluate every day. This person, you see, is described as “toxic.” Narcissistic, blames others, demeans others, puts their own status in the primary position despite any collateral damage. Think Twitter.

Have you been in this situation? I certainly have. I can picture now the people on my respective teams that were highly competent individuals capable of great performance – but it became visibly obvious that trust was not an option. The talent that was so clearly apparent was wasted on politicking, commiserating, glory-seeking, and self-promotion. These people aren’t dumb…that’s what makes them toxic.

So remember this new leader – first and foremost is to build a team. Without trust, you haven’t even started the process.

25 years after accidentally landing in Human Resources, and still miles to go before I sleep. I have worked the wild and changing spectrum of the healthcare segment as a recruiter, generalist, business partner and team leader. Public, private, PE-backed, start-up ventures and merging entities – I’ve worked with them all, As an opinion leader in the Human Resources community, my blog, “HR Hardball” has become one of the most visible and popular sites for transparent discussion on the challenges facing HR professionals. Debuting in October, 2020 is the companion podcast, “HR Hardball; Human Behavior IS Human Resources.


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