Against the grainAs leaders, we often look for lessons and experiences from others in order to help us navigate uncertain circumstances. Moreover, we frequently base our actions on our instincts, which have been formed over the expanse of our lives and professional experiences. Like many of my peers, in the course of my career, I have had to rely on these things many, many times. I have also learned that there are many times where we must go against our instincts in order to make the progress we seek. For example, the adage “trust must be earned” is one which most of us grow up hearing. As children, we are told “don’t trust strangers” and later in life we carry that skepticism with us, impinging, or at a minimum delaying, our ability to get close to those that we come in contact with in our professional dealings.

I live by a modified version of this adage within my career – “trust must be unearned”. Under this approach, I believe that I am able to encourage a results-oriented mindset, allowing my collaborators to buy-in to our mutually agreed goals. And in the spirit of achieving positive results “faster, better and cheaper”, teams which start from a position of trust are able to move quickly from ideas to results.

I don’t suggest that this always works – it does not. However, I have found that people respect an approach such as this, and more often than not, rise to the occasion. Furthermore, nothing seems to engender trust amongst team members more than collective success, recognition and reward. Remember, as Wally Bock says, “If you’re a boss, we know at least two things about you. You’re the single most important factor in whether your team has high productivity and high morale.” This approach allows you to use your influence as a leader to achieve outcomes.

One of the challenges with teams (especially new teams) is that many people view asking for help as a sign of weakness. For them, doing so publicly demonstrates that they don’t understand or need further clarification of the issue being discussed. In any meetings that I host or presentations that I give, I always encourage questions right at the outset and let the audience know that to me, asking questions is a sign of strength and leads to better, clearer communications.

My sense is that if one person has a question, chances are very high that others have the very same question. In fact, when I myself am in the audience, be it a highly attended meeting or a one-on-one meeting with a client, prospect or peer, I make sure to ask for any clarifications that I need. I don’t let fear of others’ perceptions of me or my inquiry dictate my level of understanding. Even more, I have come to believe and frequently state that “my ignorance is my greatest asset”. I learned this concept when discussing my business with an “outsider” that I had just met. I now see that someone’s “blissful ignorance” permits them to ask questions without constraint or influence of embedded paradigms.

It is clear to see that my oft-mentioned focus on outcomes has the ability to modify our way of thinking or understanding of long-held beliefs or instinctive behaviors. Generally speaking, when I engage a new team, say an internal team tasked with achieving some organizational objective, or encounter a new client opportunity, I find that deploying these approaches — trusting immediately and asking lots of questions — leads to improved performance. It does leave one vulnerable to being taken advantage of or appearing ignorant. But, my experience indicates that the risk-reward trade off is favorable in the long run.


Nina Nets It Out: Sometimes we have to go against our own instincts to pursue actions or behaviors that don’t feel “normal” to us. However, doing so can lead to expedited results, improved outcomes, and more cost-effective solutions. Think about these approaches and how they might be able to positively affect your interactions with co-workers, clients, consultants and others that you come across in the course of your daily business. And don’t hesitate to let me know of other approaches that have had similar, positive impacts.

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