Employee initiative benefits everyone. If you choose to give trust to your employees, your employees will pay you back in initiative, and they’ll do it with interest. Let’s talk about the relationship between trust and initiative and how to make it work.

Think for a moment of the best teams, doing the biggest things, conquering Goliaths, one after another. It’s a heroic culture, built on mutual respect, where everyone takes initiative.

And the fact is, even though the word “trust” can come across pretty touchy-feely, it’s actually the key to initiative and courage in any team or organization.

In other words, “I can make bold moves, based on my experience, because I know my boss and my team trust me. If it doesn’t work out, I know they’ll still believe in me. I might not win that battle, but my competence isn’t questioned every time.”

With trust, your employees become like that quarterback who just threw an interception, and then came back on the next drive and passed for a touchdown.

Trust keeps people moving forward, taking advantage of opportunities without hesitating or second-guessing themselves. And that’s called initiative.

When Initiative is Lacking

Knowing about initiative and being able to use it are two different things. When I speak to small business owners and entrepreneurs, I hear a lot of the same struggles surrounding culture. Those struggles are often caused by the same problem that’s invisible, but exists underneath the obvious issues.

What you see:

  • Problems with efficiency and velocity. Decisions don’t get made, so projects slow down.
  • Communication issues. People get stuck either trying to watch their own backs or waiting for someone else to make a risky decision.
  • Lagging profitability. When your team gets less done because they’re operating out of self-preservation rather than optimism, it’s tough to perform well.

What you don’t see: Your lack of trust might be the cause.

You Give Trust. You Get Initiative.

When you build trust between yourself and your employees, you’re giving a gift to everyone.

  • You see fewer PR and HR headaches because employees generally don’t cause problems for companies they are invested in and feel a part of .
  • Communication improves because employees aren’t trying to watch their back all the time. In addition, the work is more complete and lovingly done.
  • You enjoy increasing productivity, without the headache of forcing it.

Your employees, on the other hand, enjoy owning their work and working with others who are equally focused on the joy of the job.

A lack of initiative usually points to a trust deficit.

You see, at the base of the Five Dysfunctions of a Team pyramid is “Absence of Trust.” When you don’t have trust, you can’t build a high-performing team. You may not be able to keep employees more than a few months. Your culture won’t thrive even if you have a lot of frills and shiny objects at your disposal.

How to Give the Gift

If the absence of trust is killing individual initiative, what do you do about it?

Recognize the problem: When owners think that no one can do it better than themselves or do it “the right way,” they keep a death grip on the organization and rule by fear or with overbearing control. Employees become order takers, not initiative takers. Unavoidable consequences, such as slumping sales and a feeling of sluggishness, point back to the lack of trust within the company’s culture.

So how do you mitigate this problem?

  • Trust your first employee. Hire well, and then freely place trust in the first person you hire, and let them loose.
    • If they succeed, you’ll multiply yourself and lighten the load a little bit.
    • If they fail, they’ll either learn and get better or leave. Rinse and repeat until your first hire succeeds.
  • Trust your second and third employee.
    • If they succeed, you’ll multiply another piece of yourself again and again.
    • If they fail, they’ll either learn and get better or leave. Rinse and repeat until your first few hires succeed.
  • Keep Going. Allow your #1, 2, and 3 hires to place their trust in others.
    • This allows you build an army of trusted initiative-takers who feel like they own a piece of the businesses’ success and failure.
    • Their desire to succeed won’t be fueled by fear.
    • They’ll be invested because you’ve allowed them to spread their wings and see what they’re made of.
    • Your load will be a little lighter each time.
  • Acknowledge and celebrate your team’s successes.
  • Allow people to fail and learn from it.

But What if I’m Too Deep?

Let’s say you’re already staffed up. It’s not too late. In fact, most entrepreneurs and leaders will have to feel the problem before they look for a solution.

This actually makes you more sophisticated as a leader. Embrace it.

And then fix it.

If you’re not sure how to move forward, there are several books that can help. This is not a new problem in business. And if you’re stuck or want recommendations for your situation, comment on this post or get in touch.

Give the Gift

If you hire well and give trust, your employees will give you their imagination and their energy. As they flourish as individuals, you’ll watch your cash flow statement flourish.

So what if you’re not a founder? It doesn’t matter. You can be the CEO of a major organization or the manager of a small team. You just need to recognize the symptom so you can tackle the root problem. If you find yourself griping about your team’s lack of initiative, ask yourself if there’s really a culture of trust in place.

When you acknowledge a lack of initiative for what it is—a major clue that you have the virus of mistrust at the root of your problems—you can start taking action to build a culture that grows through the Five Dysfunctions of a Team and achieves higher performance.

If you’re not sure where to start, talk with us. We eat, sleep, and breath culture. More importantly, we have processes that allow us to help others build their culture. If you’re stuck, reach out and let us help you get unstuck.