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Building Trust: Allow your team to take risks and make mistakes while creating innovative solutions.

Booker T. Washington, the famous civil rights leader, understood the importance of earning and giving trust. He was the son of a slave woman and a white man and was 8 years old when slaves were legally emancipated. He collaboratively worked with some of the wealthiest white Northerners and the founders of the African-American movement to fund schools for African-Americans looking for their place in a new, free, but segregated world. How did he inspire confidence in a nation torn about the right thing to do? He inspired trust through his words and his actions. He worked to unite a torn country by bringing people together with a common cause.
Sometimes that meant respecting the different approaches of fellow civil rights leaders to achieve the common goal of eventual equality. He took a lot of criticism at times for his approach, but he never wavered in his dedication.
Washington’s ability to help people coalesce around an idea was described in this famous quote: “Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and to let him know that you trust him.”
That ability to challenge individuals and support their work, regardless of the outcome, is as true for a social leader as a business leader. Employees tasked with pioneering new methods have to be given the freedom to make — and learn from — mistakes with the full backing of their superiors. As my son, Martin Nivinski, once put it, “We don’t learn from our mistakes by simply making them; but understanding them is where the lesson exists.”
At times it is the very act of making a “mistake” that leads us to the innovation we are striving to achieve. Part of building trust is to support team members while they are “learning from their mistakes.” This will encourage them to continue to strive hard and also teach them to course-correct when plans lead to an undesirable outcome.
Obviously you need to protect the organization’s interest from impending disaster; I am not implying that you throw all caution to the wind. But there needs to be some leeway to allow your team to take risks. I always appreciated working in an environment where I could take calculated risks. There would be certain expectations that had to be met, but there were also areas in which we could be innovative. At times, we would have to quickly course-correct if a plan proved to be inadequate. However, it is important to have the ability to test-market, prototype or pilot an idea for proof of concept.
By setting up clear boundaries of what is acceptable and what is required, and then giving the team the freedom to find their own way within those boundaries, you empower them to come up with solutions and be creative. Particularly, when you are leading an organization where the people are dispersed over a wide geographic area, micromanaging doesn’t work. Only by focusing on goals and giving guidelines and the tools to make it happen can everyone in the organization be successful.
Team members must understand your expectations and how you will hold them accountable. They also have to be able to count on your word that you will be there to support them no matter what the outcome. This is how a leader can build a strong, effective team that can move fast and be successful.

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