Friday, November 11, 2016

Trust Falls

One of the hardest things about management is that no one is ever going to tell you if you're doing it wrong.  As deliberate as I've tried to be with approaches to my office -- emphasizing shared values, allowing autonomy, encouraging responsible risk-taking by pre-forgiving singular mistakes  -- I still wonder where I'm falling down.  Am I pushing too hard?  Providing too little oversight?  It's funny to me that I can sincerely trust the people under me to control their own work and create policy and process, but have trouble trusting that they'll be honest in their feedback.  Maybe this is a failure on my part.  Or maybe it's just human to be anxious.  Most of what I'm doing is the result of reflection on my own experiences with being managed, both bad and good.  I quail at the thought that someone in my office could similarly look back at her or his time working with me and think, "Well, I'll certainly never do things that way."

I suppose it could also just be the nature of management.  The power dynamic necessitates that trust relationships in an office be built from the top down.  As a manager, you have to make the first move and allow yourself to be vulnerable to lack of delivery from those below you (and the ensuing displeasure from those above).  It's frightening at first -- especially if your own managers don't share your view of leadership.  But it's amazing to me how consistently people deliver good work when they know and value the institutional goals and are empowered to shape and implement them.  You have to trust in them, and they have to trust in the institution.  Or that's my working hypothesis, at any rate.

Whether and how much to trust in institutions seems to be the defining question of our age.  But I trust in us to get it right.