Far too many leaders and managers inadvertently do things every day that send the message they distrust even their best people.
Sapping people's trust is unmotivating, and unmotivated people simply don't do their best work. I'm not suggesting your role is to motivate your people -- research shows that's not the optimal role for a leader -- but it's critical not to unmotivate them. Eliminating inadvertent behaviors that say, "I don't trust you," is a no-cost, high-value way to increase the odds your team will consistently do its best work.
That said, what may not be evident is what you're doing that's telegraphing mistrust or doubt. Below are seven areas for you to consider, and coaching suggestions for each one, taken from the pages of my experience as an executive coach with many leaders, organizations, and industries, that I hope you'll find helpful.
Behaviors: Nitpicking, micro-editing, being hyper-vigilant about the details of their work, too frequent check ins, and telling, rather than asking, "better" ways to do what they are doing.
Unintended message you send: I don't trust you to do your job on your own.
Coaching suggestions: If there's an enduring performance problem, greater vigilance may be necessary. If not, and if you think you may be hovering, ask yourself the appropriate question, depending on your pattern: "If I don't micro-edit this, can it be good enough?" / "What would enable me to get out of the details of X's work?" / "Can I add greater value by asking good questions, and provoking my people to come up with their own answers/solutions?" Clear out your blind spot by asking one of your team whom you trust, "In what ways do I tend to get over-involved in people's work?"
2. Delegating the "what" and the "how"
Behaviors: Saying, in effect, "This is what I need, and here's how I need you to do it," or "You should / should've done it this way."
Unintended message you send: I don't trust you to do our job your own way / to do your job the best way possible / to do your job without heavy guidance.
Coaching suggestions: Telling them how to do their work is marginalizing, rather than maximizing, your people, which goes directly to your bottom line. If there's well-grounded concern about whether they will come up with a good solution, then you need either provide greater support, or reconsider the person for their role. If it's not, then delegating the "what" you want done, then having them figure out on their own the "how" best to do it makes them add maximum value to your enterprise, not to mention freeing you up for a greater contribution.
3. Delegating without sufficient context
Behaviors: Making a request or command to do something without explaining why, or where it fits in to the bigger picture. "Do this."
Unintended message you send: You don't need to be in the loop of the "why" of this. I don't care enough about your success to actually increase the odds you will succeed here.
Coaching suggestions: People do a much better job when they understand the context of your request -- it's needed to best tailor their thinking and output. Before making a request, try including them in the bigger picture, OR explaining why they are not being given that context. Other things that add context include how their work will be used, why it is the priority it is, etc. Higher-context delegation, even if it takes another minute or two on your part, will yield greater engagement and better output among your people.
4. Delegating responsibility, while actual authority to act resides too high up the chain
Behaviors: Many organizations say they empower their people, yet particularly in difficult times, the reverse is the tidal pull. Pulling too many decisions into committees, or up the leadership chain is often the rule. You delegate, but don't give responsibility for the final decisions related to what you've asked them to do.
Unintended message it sends: you don't trust people to make prudent or wise decisions where the rubber meets the road.
Coaching suggestions: This may be a blind spot issue. Consider asking your people, which decisions do they feel they can make, yet that are being made beyond or above them? Also, try delegating responsibility and authority together -- allow your people to make their own calls as a result of the work you've asked them to do.
5. Leading with the mindset that your people are never allowed to fail
Behaviors: However well-intentioned, if people are working at their best, sometimes they will fall down, or fail. Intervening, over-rehearsing, or otherwise being heavy-handedly protective of them.
Unintended message you send: I don't trust that you can handle yourself well when the chips are down.
Coaching suggestions: While it's a good practice to help your people avoid falling a mile, falling an inch or even a foot, can be an important -- irreplaceable -- learning experience, one that makes them more self-sufficient thereafter, and one that you keep them from learning if your rule of thumb is to be overly heavy-handed in their "defense."
6. Overriding your people's input or feedback
Behaviors: Requesting or taking input from your team then (apparently to them) ignoring it without explanation. Asking for feedback, then overriding it.
Unintended message you send: I don't trust the quality or insights of your input.
Coaching suggestions: If you seek feedback or input, then choose to bypass or reject it, it's important to share what was behind your decision. "You had good ideas, but we ran out of time / budget, and had to do the minimum," or "I appreciated what you said, and hope we can take it to heart next time, but this time, X got in the way," can help. Otherwise, you risk shutting them up / shutting them down.
7. Keeping your people under wraps
Behaviors: bringing your people along with you to an important presentation or moment, and not having them actively participate. Not giving your people opportunities to showcase their work in more important settings.
Unintended message you send: I don't trust you to do your best when the setting or stakes are higher.
Coaching suggestions: Again, if you are worried about your people presenting or showcasing in higher-stakes settings, then it's important to address what's worrying you. If not, then you may be in the habit of keeping your people under wraps, and that's a habit that's easily changed. Ask yourself: "What would need to happen for me to provide a platform for X to shine?"
Assuming one or a number of these may be an issue in your world, you can ask around, and see if there's truth to any of them. If so, my experience as a coach proves that even small changes can make big differences in fostering great work, and a more self-sufficient team.
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