Abundant Optimism

Helping people regain and keep an optimistic outlook in challenging circumstances and improve their creativity, mind, and skills.

Being a Better Boss with Trust

by Tamara Martfeld

I have been in the workforce for about 35 years. During that time I have seen many bosses at various levels diminish or destroy their relationships with their employees by simply not trusting them to do the job and make well-informed decisions. Sometimes this was done with micro-management, and other times it was done with poor delegation. Sadly, I don’t think most of these bosses had any idea of the damage they were doing to their relationship with their employees or the bottom line. Team workers frequently have this problem as well. Fortunately, by being aware of some of the pitfalls the working relationships of everyone can be enhanced.

First of all, realize that people were hired and have kept their job because of their skills, education, and/or experience. The longer a person is in a specific job, the more likely it is that the individual is an expert of sorts in the job being done. If a task is needed to be done and is within the duties of a given position, at least give the person the chance to demonstrate their skills and expertise to get the job done. Assign the task to the individual and tell them the desired end result, then let the individual decide how to get to that end result. If you are on a team the same thing applies – don’t be overly detailed when assigning tasks among the team. If you are worried about the results or if the results have high stakes, set up meetings as appropriate before the deadline to check on progress.

Remembering the general rules of delegating may help here: 1) Assume the person to whom you are delegating knows how to do things, and remember that you cannot do everything yourself, 2) Communicate what needs to be done by when, why the work is needed, and available resources, but not how to do the job, 3) Assign follow-up dates as needed depending on the task and the individual assigned – sometimes you may want to know how they plan to do the job before they proceed and other times you can expect them to give you an excellent product without intermediate follow-up, and 4) Give praise for a job well-done. A sincere “thank you” for doing a job, even if it is the normal job of an individual, is a very powerful motivator.

Once the task is assigned, leave the individual alone to do the job! Constant interruptions reduce the time the person has to perform the task. I had one task several years ago which was to be transferred to a co-worker once done. That co-worker literally checked on me every 5 minutes breaking my concentration and chain of thought with each interruption. The interruptions were very detrimental to the job being done timely.

Requiring every step of the process to be approved or cleared by you is also detrimental, especially if you are someone who is in frequent meetings, very busy, or otherwise not readily available. If someone is waiting on you to continue the job then the job is at a standstill until you take action. I have seen many projects fall behind schedule simply because of this type of micro-management. This type of micro-management, especially when it results in delays, is detrimental to the bottom line. It is also demoralizing to those whose judgment is not trusted.

When reviewing the work being done, remember that there is rarely only one way to do a job. Remember that you are looking for a given result. For example, if a spreadsheet is needed as the final result, look to see if the required elements of the spreadsheet exist, not whether they are displayed as you would have had them displayed. If a letter or other written document is needed, look at whether the information is being transmitted adequately, not whether your vocabulary is used. Also important, don’t be overly picky about the words used. In many languages there is frequently more than one word which will work well in a situation. Why have a document redone and reprinted just because one word was used over another word, and neither word was offensive? A friend once showed me a series of corrections from her boss. The boss had the document redone several times because of a single word change, and the change was from word A to word B to word A to word B, and so on. The boss could not choose between two common words which had the same meaning. This was frustrating for my friend, demoralizing, and hurt the bottom line with all the time that was wasted on this one-page document.

If you find that you cannot trust someone who has been on the job for a while to complete a job without excessive oversight, look to find the reason why this exist. Does the person need training? Are you making assumptions about the persons skills which may not be true? For example, at one place I worked upper-management made a statement that no one in the business had any management knowledge, thus they needed to hire externally. In the section I worked about half of the individuals had management degrees and were just waiting for the opportunity to demonstrate their skills – no one asked about the training levels of the staff – they just assumed. More recently I heard a manager make a statement that an individual was not capable of doing a job because the individual was in a specific classification. A person’s classification does not represent their skill set – it represents the job they were able to obtain with their formal skills and education in a tough job environment. Remember, there are many with college degrees working at fast-food counters, and even those without a formal education frequently have many skills beyond the job for which they are being paid.

Your inability to trust may not be due to the person to whom you are assigning a task. The reason may be within yourself. Are you too focused on having things done in a particular manner? Have you been raked over the coals because someone in the past failed you? Are you sadly taking out your frustrations about your own past bad bosses on your employees? Is your current boss bad and you are afraid of having any mistakes come from your employees? Take a good look at yourself. Not trusting your employees, or co-workers if you are on a team, can ultimately hurt you. If you cannot trust others, why should they trust you?

Hopefully there is enough information for you to start building or re-building your relationships at work. I know it can be difficult to trust other workers, especially if your job depends on something being done right. However, remember that there is frequently more than one “right” way to do almost everything.

Good Luck!