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Strategy execution depends on people. It depends on their skills and their engagement. It’s pretty easy to develop competencies. But it’s much more difficult to influence engagement. People are simply not that easily engaged. And what’s more, specific programs to boost engagement general do not work. And why is that? Because they have nothing to do with the psychological state of engagement.
The only thing organizations can do is create a context in which engagement thrives. Basically it’s about empowerment, giving people the space they need to do the things they need to do. The more space you give, the more chances you give of people being engaged.
But leaders can be weary about this. Because to give people space, you need to be able to trust them. Indeed, leaders remain responsible for the end result and if there is no trust, it’s difficult to empower. Leaders need to decide what they want to let go off and what they need to hold on to. The rule is that leaders need to hold on as much as necessary and let go as much as possible.
The alternative to trust is control. Control comes with a cost. Trust comes with a risk. If the cost of control is lower than the expected cost of the risk, you might economically say that the control is justified. However, in some areas you will keep up control no matter what calculation you can make. So I am not saying that control is a bad thing. It’s a good thing in hazardous environment, where human errors can have devastating consequences.
But trust is always better. Trust gives people the feeling that they make a difference. Trust gives thrust to development. If people feel they are trusted they will take on responsibility and feel accountable. There are many advantages to trust, if we allow it to be there.
Leadership is only sustainable when it is based on trust. The more you can trust your people, the less you need to invest in setting up control mechanisms. Trust should not be naïve. You can manage it. And you can ask 3 questions about trust

  1. How easily do I trust others?
  2. To what degree are the people I work with to be trusted
  3. To what degree am I to be trusted?

For the two latter questions you can use the trust formula.
T = C x L x I
Trusting someone is based on competence, loyalty and integrity. In my book on sustainable leadership I describe ways of analysing and deciding upon trust. Trust trumps control. Always.
I explain how trust is an element of sustainable leadership in my book “Sustainable Leadership. How to lead in a VUCA-World”. It has been published in Dutch and French. The English version is in press.

David Ducheyne is the founder of Otolith. As a former HR and business leader he focuses now on humanising strategy execution.

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