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.