I recently read the excellent “Start With Why” by Simon Sinek, in which he discusses the theme of trust and empowerment – which has also been popping up with increasing frequency on my LinkedIn feed. The theory is simple: as a leader in business:

“you will find that your greatest success will come through trusting the people who work for you”

…empowering them to make their own decisions – even if they have potentially quite a large impact on the business.

In general my first instinct is to trust people, yet I’m reluctant to let go of things and hand over control to others. So I’ve always found that the principle and the practice are two quite different things!

I’m not about to tell you that I have returned from an epic personal odyssey having transformed myself into a great leader. I have however recently experienced this principle working in practice and as a result am inspired to – at least – try harder myself.

Refreshing trust

I have a client with whom I’ve been working for about a year now. I was struck from the outset about how honest and open the MD was about the business and how it worked. I signed a NDA (non-disclosure agreement) with them before we got into too much detail, and I gained the impression that for this client at least, NDAs were the precautionary consequence of having had at least one disappointing experience, rather than being borne out of an inherent sense of suspicion and mistrust. With that in place, there have been very few restrictions placed on the kind of information to which I am given access – and in my fairly extensive experience, that’s a refreshing change.

What I found even more stimulating though was that a lot of that information was generally accessible to most employees of the business. The company’s pricing structure is open and profit margins are understood and appreciated by all. The consequence of this is that everyone takes responsibility for profitability and works to improve it. It helps that the company communicates financials internally and rewards everyone with profit-related bonuses – as well as with more informal incentives such as generously-funded social activities.

Virtuous circle

It is a classic example of the virtuous circle: demonstrating trust in people by empowering them to make decisions (about pricing for example) develops a really motivated team of people who are loyal, committed, work hard for the business and celebrate success as a collective group. Contrast this with another business I have been involved with, where management was withdrawn and uncommunicative, pricing and margins were a closely guarded secret and celebrating success was often restricted to the privileged shareholders: the likely outcomes for that kind of business are very different. You won’t be surprised to know which of them is doing much better right now.

Much as I am delighted that my client is apparently learning and benefiting from my skills, knowledge and experience, it is also hugely rewarding to know that I am learning from them as well. What the experience has underlined for me more than anything else is that selecting the right people to work for and with you – and then genuinely trusting and empowering them – can put your business on a wonderful upward trajectory.

So how are you with trust and empowerment in your business?

Neil Russell-Bates – Hilltop Display Services

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