Leaders Need to Understand the Risk and Trust Relationship

In my talks with directors and library managers, I often hear “we want more accountability” or “how can we get staff to make more decisions on their own, they always come to us for answers”.  It’s like a riddle that everyone asks but few people answer.

If people are afraid to make decisions or are afraid to be held accountable, then there’s a good chance that somewhere in their past, they were chastised, judged or blamed for what they perceived as taking a risk. The risk could have been as simple as making an exception for a customer or offering an idea at a meeting or changing a book display or sign without permission.  It only has to happen once for some to decide that “sticking their neck out” is too much of a risk. They no longer trust that it’s safe to take a risk.  If you’re the leader or manager, it wasn’t necessarily you who perpetrated the crime.  Or maybe it was you but you didn’t know it 😉  Regardless, there is something that can be done.

If you want people to take chances, you need to lower the perception of risk.  You have to make them feel safe by finding ways, or better yet, have them find a way, to take a risk that you can support no matter what the outcome.  You then need to follow up with positive feedback about their actions and the outcome.  If the outcome isn’t what you wanted or hoped for, you need to applaud the risk-taking and look together at what was learned from the experience so you create a positive experience of risk-taking.

That’s how you’ll teach them to trust that it’s safe to take risks.  It may feel slow and time-consuming at first but the benefits will pay off hugely over time.

2 thoughts on “Leaders Need to Understand the Risk and Trust Relationship

  1. Timely topic! Libraries sense their best path forward requires innovation – which by definition involves willingness to experiment and embrace (calculated) risks. But, when people are surrounded by uncertainty, and they experience real or perceived threats to their status / livelihood, taking risks seems foolish at best.

    I’ve stumbled across a ‘trust equation’ created by Maister, Galford and Green at trusted advisor.com. Trust = credibility, reliability, and intimacy (safety) divided by self orientation. The denominator is about individual focus (me, customer, organization). Highest trust comes from the organization providing the environment (C,R,I) and the person orienting beyond themselves to something larger (team, org, community).

    All that said, libraries have to provide the environment for trust to take root. And in times of uncertainty, they have to double down in being consistent and repetitive in the message and actions for trust to grow. In our own minds we say something once, and trust that it has been heard. In reality, we must sometimes say and do things consistently, over and over, before others trust we mean it.

  2. Well said, Cherylg, and love your comment, sam. “libraries have to provide the environment for trust to take root.” Yes.

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