Exercise Radical Trust

April 14, 2020 · by Allison Porter · Filed Under Choices, Featured · Leave a Comment

An organizing principle for leading staff in this time of unprecedented disruption and uncertainty

Over the last four weeks, you have probably experienced each stage of grief: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  Maybe all at once. Maybe all at once with that one staff person who drives you crazy!  

What you need is an organizing principle to hold on to that will help you navigate supervising people who are quarantined while you yourself are quarantined and the work you need to do is exploding.  

Try radical trust:  In a time of extreme change in the conditions of our lives and organizations, we will rely on the character, ability, and strength of our people to do the best they can given their circumstances.  

Even if you have high trust levels with your team, you are likely used to having a lot more information, if not control, over what people do every day.  Radical trust means letting go of the need to know when and how people are working.  

Manage outcomes, not hours.  

You may have team members who are isolated and want to work to fill the hours and others who are homeschooling or dealing with a sick relative and go offline for hours during the workday.  Trust your folks to manage their own lives. Refrain from judging whether or not they are doing what you would do.  

Ask for transparency, not availability.

Crises have the habit of causing us to revert to our most trusted behaviors.  If we have been “trying” to be more equitable, inclusive, and collaborative, we may find those things seem like luxuries now.  Resist that feeling. Never has the need to share power and maximize human potential been more essential than it is right now. Not only is it the strategic thing to do, but your staff is watching.  Your behaviors now will show them what you really think is important.  

Share leadership, center equity and be maximally inclusive

Lastly, radical trust is something that you give without the expectation that it will be returned.  Of course, it would wonderful if your staff saw that you are doing the best you can. You also want the space to fail and recover and move on to the next thing.  Know that you are deserving of that, but remember the power imbalance. As a manager, you will need to become masterful at managing your emotions and communicating clearly.  

Communicate honestly and clearly from a place of calm.

Radical trust is informed by the Buddhist notion that suffering is increased if you don’t accept reality.  For example, if you believe that holding on to the way you managed staff during the time before COVID-19 will work now.  It is also informed by the concept that psychological safety is necessary for people to access their full selves. Use radical trust to provide more of that safety and it will strengthen your team now and for the long term.

— Allison Porter, April 2020


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