Capacity of Trust

May 8, 2010

capacity of trust

Seven C’s of Trust

This is part three of our seven-part series on Trust. Many leaders think trust is something for them to gain rather than give. They withhold trust, much as they might withhold a reward. They keep it just out of reach, so that their team members must jump to try to get it.

Exceptional leaders take a different approach. They know that trusting team members is more apt to lead to better, more inspired performance. It leads to more accountability and ownership of work.

Today’s topic is Capacity: both the capacity to work and the capacity of trust.

Your team members have likely displayed their capacity to work. The best are like my friend Henry Chidgey, who was COO of a railroad and never had a piece of paper on his desk. If he did, he knew he didn’t do his job because something was not acted upon or delegated. These are the type of leaders you want and can trust on your team. They prove, on a daily basis, the old adage: “If you want something done, give it to the busiest person.”

What about the other members of your team? What if you don’t believe they have the capacity to carry out a specific objective, strategy, or action? Do you keep giving them opportunities or do you find a way to work around them–perhaps defering the project, bypassing the chain of command, or doing it yourself?

The relationship between quality and quantity of work is complex. The busier some people are, the more attentive they are; these people are able to keep quality high even if, sometimes only if, the pace is hectic. Others turn out high quality work only when asked to focus on small quantities. Some excel when their motors are running at medium speed. So it’s not just a matter of trusting your team members to do the work, or their individual capacities for work, it’s a matter of learning what quantity of work generates the best quality.

Not everyone’s capacity for work–quality work, in particular–is the same. Few team members might be able to maintain the pace and capacity of work that you do. How few? Can any? Leaders (especially entrepreneurs) often generate new ideas–for increasing revenue, reducing costs or starting whole new businesses–at a staggering rate. Even the most capable and quick-minded team members may not be able to keep up. It’s hard to drink water from a fire hose, after all.

Before adjusting your level of trust in others, do a fair assessment of their capacity–not just for work, but for quality work. Your team members shouldn’t have to keep up to your level or pace of work. Modulate the amount of work you give, so that they get a chance to find a pace that works best for them. If that pace is unacceptable to you, or they fail to do quality work at ANY pace, then it’s time to find new, replacement team members to trust–not other team members to over-burden.

What happens often is that you may not recognize that there is a capacity issue and you just go about diverting the flow of work implicitly. A coaching friend of mine was working with a team that was struggling with their work flow and did not understand why. He brought them out to the barn to do some equine work with horses. With a little horse sense the team discovered the capacity issue. When the group made a very large circle the horse always stopped at the same person just as work in the office had done. The entire group before this field trip new something was not working but could not put their finger on it.

The thing to watch out for, especially you entrepreneurs, is that sometimes the capacity issue is not about your co-workers. It is about you. You are generating new ideas, for increasing revenue, reducing costs or starting whole new businesses. No matter how co-dependent, well intentioned, and capable of managing and prioritizing capacity your delegate is they can not keep up with you. A way to determine this may be to look at all of your team and see if this issue is showing up with all those around you. If it is, it would be a good bet that the issue is you. No matter how good they are it is still difficult drinking water from a fire hose.

Please leave your thoughts additions and comments for our community to grow from.

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