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Trust is key to handing over reins in business, life

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It is every parent's nightmare: Your teenager is asking for the keys to the car because he or she has just passed Missouri's driver's test.

This is the only time in your parental career that you want your child to fail. First, you insist on physically seeing this plastic passport to your premature aging. Then you take a nickel and scratch across your child's photo to see if this is the product of some wannabe forger.

I thought I knew what trust was until my first daughter asked for the keys. I fumbled, bumbled and finally, crumbled. It was one of the worst nights of my life. This 16-year-old was out there somewhere aiming around the streets and highways of southwest Missouri a 2,500-pound machine with a V8 engine.

She did all right the first night, second day, third month but the call did come. "Dad, I had a little accident."

Through the scarred and wrinkled metal which used to define the shiny, clean lines of my car, I learned that trust is about history. In other words, if I have observed you, over a considerable amount of time, protect and care for what I have given you, trust is a no-brainer.

If, on the other hand, you abuse what matters to me, we have a trust problem.

Now, move past my daughter and my crinkled car to you and your coworkers. Do you work with people who have mangled something you cared about? Have you handed over a project, a client or a deadline only to have the trustee disappoint you?

It seems to me the rules for reestablishing trust are different if you are the boss or the employee.

Bosses, let's do you first.

People who have power will often use the mantra, "Well, if you want to get something done right around here, I guess you have to do it yourself." And guess what? Everyone will let you do it.

If you cannot trust your employees, your business will never grow beyond you. So if egomania is your thing, expect your organization to be barely pathetic. But take heart, someone, in the eulogy at your funeral, will extol your hard, Midwestern work ethic.

Boss, somewhere along the line you will have to hand the keys over again.

This first means that when people disappoint you, tell them so. Try this, "I am frustrated because this job was not done correctly."

That sure beats, "I guess you have to do it yourself," or "Why can't anyone around here just give an honest day's work for an honest day's pay." Yada, yada, yada.

Second, it means you must work with the employee to develop a plan so the same mistakes are not made again. You may want to provide a practice run to make sure the skills have been learned.

Third, when the employee succeeds, give gales of gratitude. Think of putting the same energy into affirmation as you did into finding fault.

Now, if you are the employee and you have lost trust in your boss, it may be time to hand back the keys again with these three choices.

First, keep a written journal of how you are feeling about your work, and especially your interactions with your boss. This will provide some history for the reasons for your distrust. You will need this factual account in the next choice.

Second, in your annual performance review ask for help from your boss with your feelings.

Try a statement like this, "Boss, I have been reviewing my working relationship with you and I sense a lack of trust between us. Let me recount for you the instances when these feelings arose. Then, I need to hear if you believe I have misinterpreted these situations."

Please notice the observations are yours, but the final judgment call is your boss's.

Third, be bold in asking for the keys with, "You don't have time for this stuff, please let go and give me a chance to prove what I can do for you and our organization." Do you really believe any boss is going to be bent out of shape with a statement like that?

I trust people because I have a history with them. They have proven they can be trusted.

The people I have the most trouble granting trust to are those I have just met or who have failed me in the past.

If you work with people and have to get a job done together, there has to be trust. It is the nonverbal glue that holds your organization intact.

It was three weeks after the accident when my oldest daughter made her way into my study. With that beguiling I-can-get-what-I-want-from-dad look on her face, I knew what was coming. The car had just come back from the body shop and my new insurance rates had gone to the moon, but the question hung in the air, "Dad, can I use the car tonight?"

In order for my daughter (and your organization) to grow up, it was time to hand over the keys again.

(Dr. Cal LeMon solves organizational problems with customized training and consulting. He and his company, The Executive Edge, can be contacted via the Springfield Business Journal. Call 831-3238, or e-mail to sbj@sbj.net.)[[In-content Ad]]

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