Create Trust by Seeing What is Unique in the People You Lead


Marcus Buckingham is consistent and persistent. His latest book, Love + Work, continues his core message of the last thirty years that we are unique and possess strengths that too often don’t get fully utilized in our work and our lives. He depicts an institutional approach to management that is at war with how nature operates. He argues that our brains develop through establishing trillions of connections resulting in one-of-a-kind individuals. That individuality means we will only flourish in environments that allow us to express our passions and consistently use our strengths.


Institutions and organizations, on the other hand, make decisions based on overall effectiveness and efficiency. Even organizations that recognize they may get better individual performances with personalized job descriptions, often struggle to integrate and coordinate all that individuality with organizational alignment. The result is an underlying tension in most work experiences.


We find aspects of our job enjoyable and productive, while other tasks and relationships are not just draining, but ineffective. Our natural responses are to push back or avoid certain assignments, complain to anyone who will listen, and spend too much energy wondering why it must be this way. The result can be increased friction with our supervisors who are often caught in the middle.


From the supervisor’s perspective, they can see the benefits and the disadvantages of a more customized approach to getting work done. As they work closely with their direct reports, they easily see when they customize work around strengths people are more engaged, more enjoyable to be around and get more work done. So, their life as a supervisor is better as well.

However, this often creates additional work in other areas such as coordinating activities, completing standardized reports, and overcoming perceived inequities since people with the same job are operating differently. Additionally, upper management, eager to see results from investments in technology and scaling solutions, can put pressure on supervisors to make sure everyone is using the same tools and working in the same way.


Part of Buckingham’s solution is to encourage organizational leaders to move away from the organizational performance management approaches that have been staples of modern management. For example, he argues against cascading goals from the top, using performance ratings and standardized performance feedback tools. His argument is twofold; these approaches can’t accurately reflect how each person uniquely contributes to the organization and they erode trust.


He believes trust is a company’s most valuable asset. In his research he asked people if they trusted their teammates, their team leader, and their senior leaders. If they strongly trust two of the three, they were three times more likely to be fully engaged. When they trusted all three, they were fifteen times more likely to be fully engaged.


It is only through developing trust that supervisors can alleviate the natural tension created in organizational life. With trust from senior management, they can help create the space for more customized job descriptions and provide individual feedback that may not fit neatly into an HR scorecard. With trust from team members, they can integrate needed corporate practices into the team’s workflow without creating tension in relationships and how work gets done.


Buckingham, like many other business writers, advocates for more frequent interactions between team leaders and their direct reports. He suggests four simple questions for a 15-minute weekly check-in:

  • What activities did you love last week?
  • What activities did you loathe last week?
  • What are your priorities this week?
  • What help do you need from me, your team leader?


The frequency and the nonjudgmental nature of the questions create greater understanding and trust in the relationships. The more we believe people know us and desire to see us succeed, the greater the trust level. And the greater the trust level, the more we enjoy the opportunity to contribute to our organizations using our strengths, and the less we mind being asked to do all the other things that don’t reflect our unique selves.