Each Friday, I respond to a question submitted by a leader. Today’s question comes from a leader who wants to delegate to someone but does not trust him/her. On the surface, this may seem like an easy question to answer, but I’m wondering what the real issue may be. I think we’ve got to ask a few more questions before jumping to a conclusion.

First, what makes you think the person is not trustworthy? What specific behaviors has the person exhibited in the past to earn the label untrustworthy? Have they failed to do work previously assigned to them? Have they done work poorly? Have they failed to do their work in a timely fashion? Have they overspent the budget? Have they ignored key boundaries? Has the leader been crystal clear in setting expectations?

Finally, are the issues that create mistrust character issues or competency issues? If they are competency related, what has the leader done to help close the gap? Is the person open to learn and grow? Competency issues are much easier to resolve than character issues. Both are possible — the question then becomes willingness of the person to change and how much time you have to invest. Character formation or reformation can take years.

As you can see, there are many diagnostic questions we need to ask as a leader before we draw a conclusion on the answer to today’s question. When you label someone as untrustworthy, you may be right! However, labels are hard to manage; it’s best to start with behaviors. When we start with behaviors, the corrective actions often become more apparent. Notice, I didn’t say easy. Leading people is not easy. But it’s much easier to help people perform if we can be specific.

The best corrective action is targeted and specific. You wouldn’t say, “You need to be more professional” if the issue is typographical errors. You’d say, “You need to do a better job at proofing your documents.” Then you might choose to add, “When you make these errors, it diminishes your professionalism.” Professional is a label, typos is a behavior. You can fix typos.

Back to the question of the day… Some people are not trustworthy. Unfortunately, you may find this to be true of someone you lead. If that’s the case, after doing appropriate due diligence, and attempting targeted interventions, my recommendation is to move to terminate or relocate the individual. If we don’t trust them, their career is effectively over in our organization. They won’t get opportunities; they won’t get challenging assignments; they won’t get recognition, promotion, or pay increases. If their career with us is over, we owe it to them to release them. Perhaps they can be successful in another role or another organization. I hope so.

Jim Collins challenged me several years ago on the issue of releasing people. He said, “If you fail to terminate people who can’t excel in your organization, in effect, you are stealing their life.” I pray for the courage to make the hard call when necessary. I don’t want to steal anyone’s life.[GLS_Shield]


Author: Mark Miller

Mark is a business leader, author, communicator, photographer, husband, and father. He spends his time helping leaders grow.