Trust and Control: A Powerful Paradox

Trust and Control: A Powerful Paradox

By Mark Engle, 911 Principal

How do trust and control go hand-in-hand?

As an association Board member, you want to execute your control to make sure everything in your association goes smoothly, after all, the board has ultimate oversight duty. Why should you entrust anyone else with this responsibility?

Contrary to popular belief, a lack of trust and delegation can inhibit productive work. Trusting others and distributing authority is the underpinning of organizational performance. Without trust, for instance, the strategies you are trying to advance via your authority can slow to a crawl.

There are four types of trusting relationships:

What dimensions of trust are we talking about here? As far as Boards go, there are four main relationships that are of high importance:

  1. The trust among Board members. Without trust, one starts questioning motives instead of ideas or positions. This lack of trust impedes teamwork, which has been linked to a decline in organizational performance.
  2. The trust between Board members and the staff.  The power of the Board/Staff partnership is a key contributor to driving organizational performance.  The Board needs to trust the staff to do their job, and the staff need to trust that the board is making wise decisions. If both directions of trust are in place, the power of the partnership advances organizational performance.
  3. The trust between the Board and past leaders. They might think you are making too many changes that will harm the association. You might think that they want to leave their legacy in place at the expense of progress. You want to make sure that they will support your strategies and serve as ambassadors, but also allow you the latitude to set direction and effectively allocate resources.
  4. The trust between Board members and the membership or a membership body (e.g. House of Delegates). The membership and/or membership bodies should have a key role in informing strategy and practice/policy statements but have a limited role in making timely, consequential decisions. 

What drives this trust?

In order to examine your culture of trust, we have to understand the underpinnings that earn or sacrifice trust. According to McAllister and colleagues, there are two foundational elements pervasive in trust:

  1. Competence, reliability, and consistency. Give people quantitative proof that you can be trusted in the form of work completed competently and timely. If you can help it, never give anyone a reason to mistrust your capabilities or your efforts; whether a staff team or a work group.
  2. Care and concern. Once competence and reliability are established, you are more likely to establish trust by expressing genuine care and concern for the welfare of others and the organization. People who believe you care about them and their mission are more likely to forgive any bumps in the road or delays in action. They can assume ‘good intent’ in your actions and statements.

Here’s how you can benefit from advancing trust in these four relationship areas.

So you’ve established competence and built a relationship. You trust the competences of your staff and work teams, and you’re willing to give them the benefit of the doubt because they consistently deliver. You know that you can count on them. What’s next?

You can release control. You can feel empowered to say, “Someone I know is going to take care of that problem. They genuinely care. I don’t have to take care of it.” As an old mentor of mine used to say, “Either you worry about it or I will worry about it, but not both of us.”

focus on moving forward. When you trust that your fellow Board members, past leaders, members, and staff are looking out for the benefit of your association, that they care deeply, you can move on to bigger things.

Now that you can relinquish that control, what can you do? “Trust enables people to take risks: where there is trust there is the feeling that others will not take advantage of me.” (McAllister).  Dream big.

Affect- and Cognition-Based Trust as Foundations for Interpersonal Cooperation in Organizations; Daniel J. McAllister; Academy of Management Journal; 1995, Vol 38(1)24-59.

In the Boardroom Culture Counts; Nancy Axelrod; Journal of Association Leadership; Fall 2004 (p. 6-17).

What Makes Great Boards Great; Jeffrey A Sonnenfeld. Harvard Business Review, September 2002.

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