07/01/2013 06:13 pm ET Updated Aug 31, 2013

Trust Yourself -- and Those With Whom You Work

Many presidents I knew over the years insisted all contact between staff and board members be done through the president. I didn't. Instead, I encouraged my staff to be in regular contact with the board. At times, that contact caused heartburn. When it did, I reminded myself of Emerson's suggestion to "trust thyself, for every heart vibrates to that iron string."

I understood clearly why my counterparts wanted to control contact with board members. By doing so, there would be no surprises; by doing so, too, there would be no blurred lines with trustees.

To me, though, one needs to trust the people with whom one works. I encouraged contact between them and the board, but I always beat the drum to remind my staff they had to keep me informed and to be sensitive to relationship questions.

Trusting your staff may not make life easier for you. However, it will make work more fun for those around you. In the process, you will both come out ahead.

Was my trust in my staff ever violated? Yes. I never wavered from my belief, though. As I said on far more than one occasion, I preferred to live (and lead) by trusting those around me--until I had reason not to do so.

Of course, trust does not equate with blind faith in the recommendations of those reporting to you. An example: I believe fervently in merit pay; my academic deans did not always agree with me (in fact, they rarely did). After years of (mostly friendly) disagreement, I came to the conclusion that opposition to tying pay to merit was simply part of a faculty member's DNA (remember, deans are former faculty members).

So strongly did I embrace the belief of rewarding meritorious performance that my deans could not convince me to change my position. I never did, and, accordingly, merit pay was always the measure used at the colleges I served.

In the final analysis, you cannot do anything (successfully) yourself. To be successful, even though you may not always follow their recommendations, you need to trust those with whom you work.