In my early days of ‘professional’ project management of IT solutions, I was running a data migration project when I was also assigned to a new Business Group to lead a team supporting an existing in-house-built solution. After few days of the assignment, I was going out for a coffee with my new boss, the Business Group Manager. As we were stepping into the coffee shop he suddenly asked me: “How much time you’re going to spend on your data migration project before you can move completely to my group?” I said: “I still need around 3 months, spending up to half of my time in that project”. I said that and started thinking of justification of my off-the-air guesstimate as I expected a series of “why and how” questions. My new manager completely surprised me when he responded with one word: “Cool”. Then he continued explaining to me his expectations of what I will be doing as part of his Group. My new boss never asked me about how much time I am giving to my new role again, and I completed the data migration project in a bit less than 3 months.
Some many years later in another company, I was in a meeting with a Manager who, at the time, I was working with him for more than a year. I presented a concise document of 2 pages as a description of a potential solution requested by a business group. After his initial judgement of the poorness of the document based on its length, the Manager threw a series of questions –interjected with satirical comments- on how this document was developed. I explained that this document is a description of rather a straightforward solution, compiled out of long documents and some meetings with the potential users of the solution. I was taken by complete surprise when the Manager asked me, with a hint of mis-trust, “can I see these original documents, now!” I left the meeting, printed 40+ pages of different documents and brought them back, only for the Manager to take a 10-seconds look at them (poor trees). Unfortunately, I left this company and the poor project was still looping in its very early stage trying hard to set free out of the ‘excessive multi-cook syndrome’.
I remembered these two situations as I was going through the book “Smart Trust” by Stephen M.R. Covey, Greg Link and Rebecca R. Merrill. The authors stated that “trust has become the new currency of the global economy. It is the basis on which many people do business – or don’t” (page 13). The authors beautifully explained that when trust goes down in a relationship or an organisation, speed goes down and cost goes up. I was amused by this straightforward explanation. They clarified to me in layman’s terms why things were going fast and effective in the company of the first story above, and why they were the opposite in the second.
Trust is an important lubricant to run organisations smoothly. Trust inhibits the fear of failure and encourages creativity and collaboration among all workers. The minute that you start asking about each and every detail, (micro-management!) innovation flies away. As soon as you hint to your team that you don’t trust them enough, you start losing their initiative, they will rarely try new things, tasks will take longer and become more costly, and you’ll start hearing phrases like “if you want to get along, you’d better go along.”
As for the two Managers in the stories above, they showed me in a practical way some important differences between managers and leaders. For that, I do thank them both a lot, trust me.