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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 August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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