During my mid high school years, my interest in leadership development, growth and effective human interaction had been sparked by a vocational guidance teacher, Gordon (Billy) Bauer. He somehow always managed to stretch minds, challenge hearts and bring out the best in the individual. As one of the students of his more holistic education efforts, I was fascinated by potential and realising this, not only in my own life, but also stimulating the same in others. I made a proposal to the high school principal to take the annual first year intake of students on weekend development camps – one hundred and twenty learners divided into four groups of equal size. The idea behind the proposal was to build spirit, embed the school values in the students and assist them in realising that learning and growth accelerated if one was involved and fully contributed in school activities. The principal simply responded: “Great idea – I would like you to run with it under the guidance of Mr Bauer. Develop the concept, get your plans in place, allocate responsibility – the school will provide the campsite and the transport”. This incredible gift of trust and confidence in my ability motivated me and subsequently inspired me to build a career around leadership development and related culture growth initiatives.

Trust seems to bring out the best in people and creates new frameworks for interaction. Business leaders who demonstrate confidence in staff, saying: “You can do it. I believe in you”, inspire greatness, develop self-esteem and the potential of their employees. Such leaders become mentors, models and coaches. They give people hope. They also create the environment where the company becomes a great place to work. It is maybe true that some will abuse this trust and selfishly attempt to get all they can out of the situation, but the vast majority of employees will rise to the occasion and show their trustworthiness through hard work, innovation and creativity. They will want to give back and contribute more fully.

Trust is reciprocal. Dr Stephen M R Covey noted in his book, The Speed of Trust, that: “We also make a huge difference in our own lives – the more you trust others, the more you, yourself, are trusted in return”. In the words of Lao Tzu, “No trust given, no trust received”. Extending trust to others shows that you are willing to risk, willing to put yourself in the hands of another, willing to stretch the relationship further and jointly investigate new possibilities for the two of you. It clearly communicates that a new journey is being undertaken and that there will be support for the journey. It says unequivocally, “I believe in you and you have my encouragement”. In return, the one extending trust will receive greater commitment and a follower who is willing to go the extra mile to honour this trust.

Micro-managing, checking up and what I call “snooper-vising” are demonstrative actions of extending “no trust”. Here, the subtle sub-title is “I can’t trust you to work on your own. I need to come and check up on you, otherwise it will not be done correctly or it will not be done at the required rate”. It demonstrates insecurity in the relationship and undermines the perceived value of the contribution. It develops frustration and exacerbates relational dysfunctionality – employees feeling that they always need to prove themselves, motivated out of a fear of retribution. Subsequently, a sense of ownership diminishes and people end up “just working there because they need the salary”.

Apart from being personally worthy of trust as a leader, the ability to offer the gift of trust to others (clients, suppliers and employees) seems to be the critical factor needed to inspire and develop employees and create an optimal working environment and culture for potential to be fully realised.

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