Trust and Track

A friend and colleague of mine recently gave me a copy of Ari Weinzeig’s book “A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business.” The book’s forward is written by Bo Burlingham, Editor-at-Large of Inc. magazine and you needn’t read beyond Bo’s few paragraphs to realize that you’re in for quite a treat as the pages keep turning.

I was particularly taken by Bo’s comments on what he calls “the two basic approaches to leadership” in the corporate setting: “command-and-control” and “trust-and-track.” The former is the most prevalent and the one most people are probably familiar with, where the leader aka the “boss” tells the non-leaders aka “employees” what to do and the non-leaders follow orders.

The latter, however, presents an interesting yet not always easy-to-implement alternative. “Trust-and-track,” Bo notes, “is based on the premise that you can indeed trust people to do what’s best for the company, provided you give them the proper training and tools.” He continues: “Its practitioners will tell you that a management system built around trust is actually the most effective and efficient way to run a business. The key words here are ‘training,’ tools,’ and ‘system.’ You can’t practice trust-and-track successfully without all three, and it takes an enormous amount of effort, persistence, and commitment to develop them.”

I realized in reading this that I have implemented – with varying degrees of success – a personalized version of the “trust-and-track” system of management in my family of companies over the last decade and I agree with Bo’s caveat that so doing without well-developed training, tools, and systems makes the “trust-and-track” all but impossible. I would also add that it can be challenging to explain to participants that trust-and-track doesn’t imply that there is no hierarchy or corporate structure. As Ari notes in the book, he is a “lapsed anarchist” in this sense because he realized after repeated failures that the best alternative to command-and-control is not anarchy, where there is no differentiation or control within the organization, but that the answer he found was somewhere in between.

The people who thrive in my companies tend to be self-starters who brim with initiative and love a good challenge. I am not ashamed to admit that providing this type of person with sufficient breathing room can be my greatest challenge at times, but not for the obvious reasons. You might think that the people are the primary problem with there are breakdowns in the system, but I can show you a few scars (and perhaps even a few open wounds) to prove that insufficiently strong enough training, tools, or systems are the more likely culprit. Weak training, tools, or systems (or any combination of the three) leave the system vulnerable to imbalances which typically manifest as interpersonal issues in the organization. What’s interesting is that they don’t tend to make much sense when you dig into them, especially when it is seen that all parties involved know that they share a common purpose and a genuine mutual respect.

I’m looking forward to working with this idea over the coming days and weeks as I believe that people should be trusted more than they typically are in the world today. This cannot, of course be a blind trust, one that is not tracked and calibrated to the reality of the factors at hand. Trust-and-track may not be a utopian solution in a dystopian world, but it does offer the promise of movement in the right direction.

5 thoughts on “Trust and Track

  1. Carol

    I think the work environment I’m currently in could probably be characterized as “trust and track.” I spent this afternoon working on SMART goals – what I plan to achieve this year and what direction I want to move in. Next is a review with my manager with the goal of personal development as well as filling the position requirements. There’s a tendency for most to dread this process (every 6 months) as it requires some time and thought. Evaluating your own work, how you work with the whole, etc., and then, thinking about your future, and what you want to move towards is all part of it.

    What occurred to me this afternoon was how much complementation plays in any workplace (that filling out that occurs when two or more work together). My manager is a very adept leader and I tend to be adept at training although I’m a manager too. He fills out the areas where I lack the skills. Sometimes the thought arises that you have to be the best at everything especially if people report to you. That’s where trust comes in. You have to trust others enough to let them complement you with their abilities. It fills out the picture and the scope of accomplishment widens.


  2. Carmen

    I am not a business person in any way, and I must speak that at once. But I believe that no matter where a person serves a leader, no matter where that may be, the person brings with them all that they are. By that I mean who are they, and most importantly who do they “think” that they are. What does one value? and how? I know that as an owner of businesses you will see this from a different side, as I am sure that you must of necessity. But the leader must always be able and willing to take the entire being that stands before them, and be able to see within them the greatest of their potential. The greatest of the possibilities of “fitting” within the larger group and correct goal. To be able to take the clay that has been offered, and to ever lift it. Does this not remind us of the saying, “as above so below”?


  3. Ernest

    Interestingly enough and not surprising is that I recently invested and began reading this same book, and so far I am as impressed with it as you are Gregg. Certainly through the years i have learned, often the hard way, to extend trust to those who I am entrusting with my business, and set up controls so that at all times I can inspect as well. However, the inspection comes after they are doing the work, and is more to make certain that the systems are right rather than the actual checking up on people.

    For this to be done with any degree of success you of course must as a starting point have a) a company that is truly committed in all aspects to be the absolute best that it can be and b)to have truly trustworthy people. Perhaps the following will provide some starting points to accomplish that:
    1. A recruiting process that allows you to really know who the person is more than what they have done. Taking the time to find and select the right person is crucial.
    2. High standards for your people.
    3. High expectations for your people.

    It is amazing what that combination, high standards, high expectations, and trust/inspect will bring you in the way of genuinely quality people that have a genuine desire to be a part of something significant.


  4. Lady Leo

    Well thought out, training , tools and systems are indeed the backbone of any successful business I’ve had the pleasure of working with. To create all three, takes time, sustained attention, trial and error. When that is in place it takes exemplary communication, ongoing training, auditing outcomes and retraining if necessary. The final piece, I’ve noticed often can get lost, is analyzing and follow through with respect to the outcome. If the tools, systems and training are on target the people involved have to be evaluated with either recognition that someone may need a career adjustment; or recognition and appreciation for a job well done. The process can seem arduous to onlookers but to be a participant in that type of endeavor is satisfying, exciting and rewarding. The personal growth alone is tremendously significant, yet I’ve never seen it not coupled with financial success as well. Nice post; I’m interested to read the book, thank you!


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