Trust vs. Control

Erika Andersen, author of the forthcoming book Leading So People Will Follow, has written a piece on about our HBR article “Leadership Is a Conversation.” She has nice things to say about the ideas that we present in that article (and, by extension, nice things to say about Talk, Inc.). More important, she builds upon those ideas in an insightful way.

She notes, for example, that the pursuit of conversational trust (which we discuss in Chapter 1) runs counter to the pursuit of tight managerial control (a topic that we address in Chapter 7). Here’s a sampling of Andersen’s post:

[T]wo things … always seem to rear their ugly heads when a more egalitarian and collaborative approach to business is shown to be more effective: the need to control, and the lack of trust.

In order to make their own communication and the communication throughout their organizations more two-way, leaders need to be willing to cede some control to their employees. If you step down off your leader pedestal and engage with people as fellow human beings (intimacy), ask them what they think (interactivity) about important issues and decisions (intentionality) and allow them to have an impact on the outcomes (inclusion)—it means you’re no longer getting to call all the shots. Some leaders are OK with that in theory, but not in practice. …

Which brings us to the other problem: lack of trust. I’ve often seen leaders try to adopt a more open, inclusive style of communication, and then get frustrated when people didn’t immediately leap to respond. … If a leader wants to shift the style of communication in his or her organization to be more conversational, more inclusive, he or she is going to have to be both patient and truly consistent—he or she will need to demonstrate over and over that no bad things will happen to people who speak up.

In the post, Andersen also mentions that she has facilitated CEO-led meetings that incorporate exactly this kind of conversation-driven approach.

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