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Putting Your Trust in . . . Trust

Putting Your Trust in . . . Trust

Trust is an essential component in almost all dealings between human beings, other than outright hostile ones like wars and terrorism. It is certainly vital for the proper running of any organization, as well as for almost all the components of trade and commerce. Lack of trust between trading partners undermines the proper functioning of business. Mistrust is a major cause of excessive (and unnecessary) workload on leaders, since the absence of trust means everyone has to be supervised and monitored almost constantly. Yet current styles of management—especially Hamburger Management—either ignore the importance of trust altogether, or act in ways guaranteed to undermine and destroy it.

The current emphasis on “management by numbers”—the belief that what cannot be measured (or is not measured, by choice) will simply not happen—represents the opposite of trust: an immediate assumption that employees are feckless, lazy, stupid, or just plain awkward. Many years ago, Douglas McGregor described this as “Theory X” and showed how it led to tight controls and an obsession with motivation by direct (usually monetary) incentives: exactly the situation today in many organizations.

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In the workplace, trust is an essential element between colleagues sharing a project, people trusting that the boss will arrange equitable rewards and recognize good work, or customers trusting that the product or service you supply will be there on time and match up to what you promised. Keeping people’s trust (and restoring it, if you have acted in ways that undermine their faith in you) matters a great deal in hard business terms. Managing in an organization low on trust demands much more time and effort (to check up on everyone, attend otherwise pointless meetings for the same purpose, and generally micromanage to the detriment of your own work and sanity). It usually means that other people don’t trust you either. Subordinates don’t trust a boss who doesn’t trust them, and become prone to doing no more than is essential to keep their jobs. Bosses may secretly congratulate you on “bringing home the bacon,” however you did it, but you can be sure that they will have noted any untrustworthy actions and will take care in future that you have no opportunity to deceive them.

It certainly seems that trust is a disappearing asset, in business as elsewhere. At the organizational level, there seems to be ample proof that risking any organization’s reputation for honesty, fair business dealings, and civilized behavior for the sake of short-term gain is culpably foolish. A solid reputation is worth hard cash, and those who lose it, lose a great deal of money as well.Yet that is what too many organizations and their leaders risk doing today, often on a regular basis. Leadership doesn’t only mean taking tough decisions in a technical or competitive sense. It means acting as a steward for the organization’s values and reputation; and— if necessary—defending that reputation stubbornly against those wishing to set short-term personal and organizational profit above everything else.

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People need to be able to trust the boss to give them due credit. Leaders who fail to recognize the contributions of others (or try to pass them off as their own) are actively harming their organizations and themselves. The vast majority of people truly love to contribute their creativity to help the organization. But they won’t do so if leaders, obsessed with their own egos, status, and maintaining the status quo, ignore them, denigrate their contributions, or claim credit for their best ideas. Bosses like that use a well-worn set of rude and dismissive phrases to browbeat their subordinates, systematically destroying any trust that they might have generated by acting fairly and encouraging other people to contribute.

Hamburger Management relies on whatever is quickest, simplest and cheapest, regardless of the quality of the means or the outcome. Its myopic obsession with the shortest of short-term gains leaves no place for anything beyond rigid control and micromanagement. The willingness of Hamburger Managers to sacrifice anyone and anything to “make the numbers” destroys the trust people would otherwise place in their leaders. Without reciprocal loyalty, why should employees be loyal in their turn?

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Leadership of this kind is teaching a generation of people an extremely dangerous set of lessons: that money is all that counts, that the ends justify the means, and that the only set of needs and objectives that really matters is your own. It’s time to put our trust in trust itself: to accept that you cannot possibly watch everyone all the time, that monetary incentives cannot take the place of commitment to a cause and a leader, and that without trust in one another there can be no sense of community or productive relationships in the workplace.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. His new book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization

    , is now available at all good bookstores.

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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