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Practice 7: Trust Others a Bit More; Control Them a Little Less

19 January, 2016 - 10:47

Relationships are reciprocal in nature. There must be give and take for them to work properly. If leaders want the organization to trust them, then they must learn to trust the organization. While this prospect can be terrifying to some leaders with their fixation on control and predictability, it is an essential ingredient to building organizational capacity for change.

I personally had to deal with this issue myself recently. My 12-year-old daughter and a friend of hers and I visited the boardwalk in Virginia Beach where we live. The girls wanted to rent a four-person bicycle and so we did just that. Being the most experienced driver in the group, I assumed the steering role at the front left-hand side of the bicycle. However, after a few minutes, I offered to let my daughter steer the vehicle on the bicycle path. I made that offer with some trepidation knowing that her eye–hand coordination was not very developed and her ability to focus left much to be desired. Furthermore, the bikeway was quite crowded with other bicycles and many pedestrians nearby. However, I wanted her to learn to trust her driving ability and to know that I trusted her, so I made the offer. She readily accepted, and sure enough, the bicycle careened off the bike path into a bush in a few minutes when someone unexpectedly stepped in front. However, I kept my mouth shut and we did it again and she did much better the second time. Notably, my daughter said this was the highlight of our trip to the beach, and she seemed to walk a little taller and prouder after this little experiment.

Of course, the consequences of driving a bicycle off the path are not as bad as driving an organization off the path, so my personal example is rather trivial compared with trusting others to “step up” within an organization. However, the principles are the same and the outcome is illustrative. Overall, having a balance between trust and control is essential for building organizational trust. contains a graphical summary of the first dimension of organizational capacity for change.

Figure 3.1 The First Dimension of Organizational Capacity for Change: Trustworthy Leadership