4 Ways Leaders Create Capacity in the Organization

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Great leaders know the more capacity the organization has the more potential it has. And, when the organization begins to exceed its capacity for too long things eventually stall. To spur growth — increase capacity.

Therefore, one of the best ways a leader can impact an organization is to create capacity so the organization and its people can grow.

Here are 4 ways a leader can create capacity:

Paint a void

Allow others to see what could be accomplished. Leaders help people see potential — in themselves and the future — they may not otherwise see. This can be accomplished through vision casting and question asking. It may be helping people dream bigger dreams of what could be next in their own life or for the organization. It could be through training or development. Extra capacity energizes people to find new and adventuresome ways of achieving them.

Empower people

When you give people the tools, resources and power to accomplish the task and you’ve often created new capacity. Many times people feel they’ve done all they can with what they have. Provide them with new tools — maybe new ideas — assure them they can’t fail if they are doing their best. Continue to support them as needed. Then get out of their way.

Release ownership

Let go of your attempt to control an outcome so others can lead. Many people hold back waiting for the leader to take initiative or give his or her blessing. The more power and ownership you release the more others will embrace. The more initiative they will take of their own.

Lead people not tasks

If you are always the doer and never the enabler then you are not a leader. More than likely you are simply an obstacle to what the team could accomplish if you got out of the way. Many leaders don’t see this in themselves. Frequently ask yourself: Am I leading or am I in the way? And, if you’re brave enough — ask others to evaluate you — even anonymously.

When the leader creates capacity the organization and the people in the organization increase their capacity — and things can grow.

5 Secret Traits to Make a Better Leader

Young woman telling a secret to a man

When I became a leader, I had no clue what I was doing. I was a high school student and had just been elected student body president. I had served as class president and in a few other positions, but there didn’t seem to be a lot of responsibility which stretched me at that point. As president of the study body, now a senior, I quickly realized lots of students and teachers were looking to me for leadership.

What in the world does a senior in high school have to add to the field of leadership?

We were in the second year of a new school and most of the students were forced to leave their previous school to attend this one. Some went willingly, but many were reluctantly bused to a school absent of many of their friends. In my first year at the school, as a junior, I was one of the reluctant students. In my new position, I knew firsthand the need, as well as the challenge, to encourage the morale and build momentum in this new school.

(Recognizing a need is one key to being an effective leader — but I still had no clue how to accomplish this.)

Thankfully I had a seasoned leader for a principal. Mr. Huggins was a retired Army colonel who loved seeing students succeed. He became my mentor and my biggest supporter as a new leader.

(Every new leader needs someone who believes in them, mentors them, and helps them get back up when they fall.)

Through his leadership of me, I learned a few “secrets”, which helped me as student body president. I carried them with me as I entered the business world and later as I led my own businesses. I used them in an elected office. 

Even today in ministry, these same “secrets” have made me a better leader. I’ve gotten lots of practice with them and they are more comfortable to me now, but they still are pillars of my understanding of what good and effective leadership looks like.

(Good leaders learn good principles and build upon them, contextualizing them for each leadership position.)

The principles started with the investment of my principal in me.  

Here are 5 secret traits to make you a better leader:

Let go of power

The more you learn to delegate the better your leadership will appear to others. When you let go and let others lead, it will actually look like you’re doing more, because your team will be expanding the vision far beyond your individual capacity. Good leadership involves empowering people to carry out the vision. (You may want to read THIS POST as a test to see if you’re an empowering leader.)

Give up control

You can’t control every outcome. Have you learned that secret yet? Some things are going to happen beyond your ability to guide them. Leaders who attempt to control stifle their team’s creativity, frustrate others on the team and limit the growth and future success of the organization. (You may want to read THIS POST about controlling leaders.)

Don’t always know the answer

If you don’t have all the answers, people will be more willing to help you find the answers. If you try to bluff your way through leadership, pretending you don’t need input from others, your ignorance will quickly be discovered, you’ll be dismissed as a respected leader, and you’ll close yourself off from gaining wisdom from others. The best leaders I know are always learning something new…many times from the people they lead.

“Waste time” is not wasted

Great leaders have learned that spending time that other leaders may feel is unproductive usually ends up being among the most productive use of their time. (I wrote a post about this principle HERE.) Spend time investing in people, in ways that may or may not produce immediate results, and over time, you’ll find your team to be more satisfied and more productive in their work.

Bounce off attention 

The more you deflect attention from yourself to others, the more people will respect you. People follow confidence in a leader far more passionately than they follow arrogance. You can be confident without demanding all the attention or without receiving credit for every success of the team. Great leaders know that without the input and investment of others they would never accomplish their goals. They remain appreciative of others and consistently share the spotlight. (You may want to read the attributes of a humble leader in THIS POST.)

Those are some of my secrets. Thanks Principal Huggins! And, life for continually showing me these are true.

What secret traits have you learned that make one a better leader?

10 Symptoms of the Unaware Leader

clueless leader

A couple years ago there was a consistent problem in one of our areas of ministry. It was something which I would have quickly addressed, but no one brought it to my attention. Thankfully, I’ve learned the hard way that what I don’t know can often hurt my leadership or the church the most, so I’m good at asking questions and being observant. Through my normal pattern of discovery I encountered the problem, brought the right people together, we addressed the problem and moved forward.

End of story.

If only that was the end of the story every time. I’ve missed problems equally as much.

It reminds me — the leader is often the last to know when something is wrong. I have consistently told this to the teams I lead. You only know what you know.

And many times, because of the scope of responsibility of the leader, he or she isn’t privy to all the intricacies of the organization. Some people, simply because they would rather talk behind someone’s back than do the difficult thing of facing confrontation, tell others the problems they see before they share them with the leader. Without some systems of discovering problems the leader may be clueless there is even a problem.

Not knowing is never a good excuse to be unaware.

It’s not a contradiction in terms. I’m not trying to play with words. I’m trying to make an important leadership principle.

As a leader, you may not know all the facts — and you don’t need to know everything — will keep an organization very small and very controlled. I spend lots of energy on this blog denouncing that type leadership. But you should figure out how to be aware enough as a leader to discover the facts which you need to know.

Unaware leaders have some commonalities among them. (By the way, I’ve written this in a general sense for all organizations, but its equally true in the church context.)

Not certain if you are an aware leader?

Here are 10 symptoms of the unaware leader:

  • Not knowing the real health of a team or organization.
  • Clueless to what people are really saying.
  • Unsure of measurable items because they are never measured or monitored.
  • Not asking questions for fear of an unwanted answer.
  • Not dreaming into the future; becoming content with status quo.
  • Preferring not to know there was a problem than there is one.
  • Ignoring all criticism or dismissing all of it as negativity.
  • Not learning anything new, relying on same old ways to consistently work.
  • Making every decision without input from others.
  • Assuming everyone supports and loves your leadership.

Those are just some of the ways a leader remains unaware. There are possibly many others.

Some things the leader will never know. That’s okay.  There are issues within the life of an organization, however, that while the leader may not know readily, or even want to know, he or she should explore continually.

One of my rules of thumb in determining what I need to know and what I don’t. If it has the potential to impact the long-term health of the organization then I need to know about it. It could be a change we are about to make, a mistake we made, or just perceptions that people have within the organization. But, if I’m eventually going to hear about it anyway I want to hear about it as early in the process as possible.

Want to test your awareness?

Try this simple experiment. Send an email to a fairly sizable group of people you trust — key leaders, staff members, friends — people who know your organization fairly well. These could be from the inside or outside depending on the size of the organization. Make sure there are some people on the list who you know will be honest with you. In fact, tell them you want them to be. Tell them that you are trying to be more aware as a leader and need their help.

Pick some or all of these questions and ask people to respond to them:

What am I currently missing as a leader?
What do you see that I don’t see about our organization?
What should I be doing which I’m not doing — things if you were in my position you would be doing?
Do you think we are changing fast enough to keep up with the needs of the people we are serving?
What are people saying about me or our organization which I’m not hearing?
Would you say I am generally aware of the real problems in our organization?
Who on my team is keeping from me how they really feel?

If you really want to a challenge from this experiment, let them answer anonymously. You trust them, right? We set that in the parameters of who you asked to answer. Set up a Survey Monkey account and let them respond without having to add their name.

See what responses you receive.

Not ready to do that?

You could simply address the symptoms above and see how that improves your awareness as a leader. Whichever you choose.

What other symptoms are there of an unaware leader?

5 Traits of the Aware Leader

Mature man cupping hand behind ear

The longer I’m in leadership, the more I realize I don’t always fully know the real health of my team or organization at any given time — at least as much as others do.

Don’t misunderstand — I want to know, but often, because of my position, I’m shielded from some issues.

I’ve learned, right or wrong — agree or disagree — that some would rather complain behind a leader’s back than tell them how they really feel. Others assume the leader already knows the problem. Still others simply leave or remain quiet rather than complain — often in an attempt to avoid confrontation.

I’ve made the mistake of believing everything was great in an area of ministry or with a team member, when really it was mediocre at best, simply because I was not aware of the real problems in the organization.

It can be equally true that a leader doesn’t know all the potential of an organization. Some of the best ideas remain untapped for some of the same reasons. People are afraid of their ideas being rejected, so they don’t share them. They assume the leader has already thought of it or they simply never take the time to share with them.

If a leader wants to be fully “aware”, there are disciplines they must have in place. For example, as a leader, do you want to easily recognize the need for change and the proper timing to introduce it? That comes partly by being a more aware leader.

Here are 5 traits of the aware leader:

Asks questions

Aware leaders are consistently asking people questions and making intentional efforts to uncover people’s true feelings about the organization and their leadership. (Read a post of questions I wrote called 12 Great Leadership Questions HERE.)

Remain open to constructive criticism

Aware leaders make themselves vulnerable to other people. They welcome input, even when it comes as correction. They realize that although criticism never feels good at the time, if processed properly, it can make them a better leader. (You may want to read THIS POST and THIS POST about how to and not to respond to criticism.)

Never assumes everyone agrees

Aware leaders realize that disagreement and even healthy conflict can make the organization better. They expect differences of opinions on issues and they are willing to wrestle through them to find the best solution to accomplish the vision of the organization, even if that opinion belongs to someone other than the leader.

Never quits learning

Aware leaders are sponges for information. They read books, blogs, or they might listen to podcasts. They keep up with the current trends in their industry through periodicals and newsletters. They never cease to discover new ideas or ways of doing things.

Remains a wisdom-seeker

Aware leaders surround themselves with people further down the road from where they are in life. They most likely will use terms like mentor, coach or consultant. They are consistently seeking the input of other leaders who can speak into their situation, make them a better leader or person, and ultimately help the organization.

Great leaders are aware leaders.

Does that describe you as a leader or your leader?

What would you add to my list to describe an aware leader?

5 Right Ways to Respond to Criticism

wonderful-life-bank-scare

Let’s be honest! Criticism hurts. No one enjoys hearing something negative about themselves or finding out that something you did wasn’t perceived as well by others as you hoped it would be.

Criticism, however, is a part of leadership. It comes with the territory. And, if handled correctly, it doesn’t have to be a bad part of leadership — or at least not as bad as we make it.

The truth is there is usually something to be learned from all criticism. Allowing criticism to work for you rather than against you is a key to maturing as a leader.

Recently I posted 5 Wrong Ways to Respond to Criticism. This is the companion post.

Here are 5 right ways to respond to criticism:

Listen to everyone

You may not respond to everyone the same way, but everyone deserves a voice and everyone should be treated with respect. This doesn’t necessarily include anonymous criticism. It’s hard to give respect to someone you don’t know. I listen to some if it, especially if it appears valid, because I’ve often learned from that too. Plus, I always wonder if something in my leadership prompted an anonymous response. At the same time, I never “criticize” leaders who don’t listen to anonymous criticism. I don’t, however, weight unidentified criticism as heavily as I would criticism assigned to a person. (Feel free to leave a comment about anonymous criticism and how you respond.) But, the point here is to at least listen to criticism when people are willingly to put their name behind it.

Consider the source

In a stakeholder sense, how much influence and investment does this person have in the organization? This might not change your answer to the criticism but may change the amount of energy you invest in your answer. Years ago our church met in two schools, for example, so if the Director of Schools had criticism for me I would invest more time responding than if it’s a random person complaining about our music who never intended to attend our church again.

Analyze for validity

Is the criticism true? This is where maturity as a leader becomes more important. You have to check your ego, because there is often an element of truth even to criticism you don’t agree with completely. Don’t dismiss the criticism until you’ve considered what’s true and what isn’t true. Mature leaders are willing to admit fault and recognize areas of needed improvement.

Look for common themes

If you keep receiving the same criticism, perhaps there is a problem even if you still think there isn’t. It may not be a vision problem or a problem with your strategy or programming, but it may be a communication problem. You can usually learn something from criticism if you are willing to look for the trends.

Give an answer

I believe criticism is like asking a question. It deserves an answer even if the answer is you don’t have an answer. You may even have to agree to disagree with the person offering criticism. By the way, especially during seasons of change, I save answers to common criticism received because I know I’ll likely be answering the same criticism again.

The picture with this post is from one of my favorite movies “It’s a Wonderful Life”. In this scene, George Bailey responds to criticism the Bailey Building and Loan is going to collapse. I love how he takes the criticism serious, considers the importance of the critics, responds as necessary, attempts to calm their fears, and refocuses on the vision. What a great leadership example during times of stress!

Obviously, this is an extreme and dramatic example, but it points to a reality that happens everyday in an organization. And, some times it is extreme and dramatic. Many times people simply don’t understand so they complain — they criticize. The way a leader responds is critical in that moment.

What would you add to my list? Where do you disagree with me here? I’ll try to take the criticism the “right” way!

5 Wrong Ways to Respond to Criticism

Naughty Naughty

Criticism accompanies leadership.

Every leader knows this. Make any decision and some will agree and some won’t.

The only way to avoid criticism as a leader is to do nothing.

If a leader is taking an organization somewhere, and really even if he or she isn’t, someone will criticize his or her efforts.

That said, the way a leader responds to criticism says much about the maturity of the leader and the quality of his or her leadership.

Here are 5 wrong ways to respond to criticism:

Finding fault with the critic

Instead of admitting there might be validity to the criticism, many leaders immediately attempt to discredit the person offering it. Granted, there may be fault — and some people are terrible complainers (some are just mean), but it’s never helpful to start there.

Blaming others

Many leaders realize the criticism may be valid, but they aren’t willing to accept personal responsibility, so they pass it along to others. This is dangerous on so many levels and is truly poor leadership.

Returning criticism

Often a leader will receive criticism and instead of analyzing whether there is validity or not, the leader begins to criticize other organizations or leaders. It’s a very immature response. In elementary school it went like this — “I know I am, but what are you?”

Ignoring an opportunity to learn

This is a big one, because criticism can be a great teaching tool. It needs a filter. The person and circumstances need to be taken into consideration, but with every criticism rests an opportunity to learn something positive for the organization or about the leader.

Appeasing

Many leaders are so fearful of conflict they attempt to satisfy all critics, even if they never intend to follow through or make changes because of the criticism. They say what the critic wants to hear. If there is no merit to criticism then don’t act like there is merit. Be kind, but not accommodating.

I’ve been guilty of all of these at one time or another. Awareness is half the battle. Identifying the wrong ways to respond to criticism and working to correct this in your leadership is part of growing as a leader.

In my next post I’ll share some right ways to respond to criticism.

What else would you add as a wrong way to respond to criticism?

7 Statements Every Leader Needs To Use Often

Handshake - extraversio

Recently, I shared 7 questions every leader should use often. It also made me think there was a similar set of phrases leaders should consider using frequently. These are not questions, but statements.

One of the goals of a leader should be to encourage, strengthen and challenge a team to continually improve. Almost as a cheerleader rousing the crowd at a game, the leader uses his or her influence to bring out the best in others.

How do leaders do that?

One way is by the questions and statements we make as leaders. This post is an extension of that thought — this time some statements.

Here are 7 statements leaders should memorize and use often:

I believe in you.

Don’t say it if you don’t mean it. That’s not helpful. But, hopefully as a leader you are surrounding yourself with people in which you do believe. Tell them. Everyone needs to know this, but in my experience, this is even more important the newer the person is on the team.

You are an asset to this team.

Let them know they make a difference. One of the best ways to do this is by bragging on people when they do something well in front of the rest of the team. Even the most introverted person enjoys this kind of recognition.

I’ve got your back.

If you are an empowering leader — and you should be — then people are stepping out on their own, taking risks for the benefit of the organization. They need to know you support them — even when mistakes are made.

You did a great job.

If they did — tell them. Never miss an opportunity to give post-project encouragement. Celebrating wins encourages the team and more wins.

I want to help you reach your personal goals.

This could even mean the person would no longer be on your team if they did, but it protects their loyalty while they are and this type environment welcomes the highest caliber of leaders. They are willing to work with you because they know you won’t attempt to hold them back from their own goals — in fact, you will encourage them.

I respect you for _______.

Be specific. What is it that impresses you about this team member? What do they uniquely add to the team? Tell them. The power of this one is exponential.

I trust you.

This one requires more than words. You’ll have to prove it with your actions. But, when a team member feels trusted by the leader they are more willing to take risks. They will have more loyalty to the leader — trusting the leader in return. They will be more likely to overlook the days you aren’t leading quite as well.

You may not be able to use these phrases every day. You shouldn’t overuse them. They need to be genuine, heartfelt and honest. That may not even happen every week. But, as often as you can, slip a few of these into your memory bank and pull them out where appropriate. They will help you build a better team.

What phrases would you add?

7 Questions Leaders Should Use Often

what is the answer

Questions are a powerful tool for every leader. The greatest leaders I know ask lots of questions.

Whenever I consult with leaders, one of the first things I do is analyze what questions the leader is asking. You only get answers to questions you ask. The better the questions — the better the answers.

Questions can challenge. They encourage discussion. They can open the process towards discovery of solutions and better ways of doing things. Plus, questions allow other people to have an opinion other than the leader — adding huge value to organizational health.

I’ve learned over the years people often have opinions they won’t share until they are given a direct invitation to share them. I keep my door open all the time. I take pride in not being a “controlling leader”. But, it doesn’t guarantee people will share what’s on their mind. The forum has to be created for them most of the time.

Here are 7 examples of questions leaders should memorize and use often:

How can we improve as a team?

This is a practical question which, in my experience, people will enjoy answering. It can make their life better. They may have thoughts on needing more meetings — or less meetings — or better meetings. That could be valuable insight you don’t see. Even if they’ve never thought about this question it opens their mind to ways to improve. Who doesn’t need that?

Will you help me?

Everyone wants to be wanted. They want their input to be needed. I’m not talking about dumping on people, but when a leader asks this question and genuinely invites the team into the decision-making process they feel empowered.

How can I help you?

Knowing a leader is willing to help is huge. Even if they don’t need your help they appreciate knowing they are truly part of a team. And, the leader is a team player.

Do you understand what I’m saying?

This is a valuable question to follow up with after you’ve said anything, but especially when you’ve delegated a task or given someone a responsibility. Because, again, they may not ask if you don’t. Not asking this question can lead to unnecessary confusion, miscommunication and frustration.

Do you have what you need?

Giving any assignment without asking this question leaves many people unprepared and doomed for failure. Good leaders make sure the team has adequate resources to do their work.

What do you think we should do?

This question is helpful, for example, whenever there is a problem to be solved which has never been addressed before. Most likely, when the question is answered it will impact others on the team. Inviting people to help solve the issue or come to a conclusion about it gives them ownership in the solution.

What’s next for us?

This is a great brainstorming question. It forces people to dialogue about creating something new or developing something existing. It fuels momentum.

It should be noted — these questions are most helpful on healthy teams and with healthy team members. If you have an overly negative team member, for example, I wouldn’t recommend asking these questions. Or, maybe ask the “How can I help you?” one. (Even if that needs to be transitioning to another place where they can be happy.)

What I would say, however, is questions can be a way to improve the health on a team. And, sometimes even improve an unhealthy team member. It’s all in picking the right questions. And, asking them.

What questions would you add?

5 Roadblocks of Good Leadership

Road closed

I was in a hurry to get to a meeting across town and the traffic was horrible. I decided to take a shortcut. I had been the new way only one other time, but remembered it well enough to believe it would be faster. I turned several streets to navigate through a subdivision, back on to a main road, and then through another subdivision. Just as I was about to get to the road I needed to be on the road was permanently closed to through traffic. It had apparently been closed for some time. Had I checked before attempting to go this direction, probably even long enough for Google maps to pick up on it. I essentially had to completely backtrack and get into the same traffic jam again. Only this time I was even twenty minutes later.

So, much for my shortcut.

It reminded me, however, of something I’ve observed in leadership. There are roadblocks in good leadership too.

I’ve witnessed many leaders, including myself at times, become distracted from leading as well as we should.

Many times it’s a natural occurrence. We aren’t feeling well physically or emotionally. Life struggles distract us and our attention to our work isn’t what we would want it to be. There is a problem with someone else on the team which must be dealt with before you can move forward. They are usually seasonal and mostly unavoidable distractions — roadblocks — every leader faces.

Everyone faces roadblocks.

It’s the roadblocks in leadership which we can avoid that tend to be most damaging. They detract from growth and destroy organizational health.If they aren’t addressed, it can set a leader back months, years, even an entire career.

As leaders, we must avoid these roadblocks as much as possible.

Here are 5 roadblocks to good leadership?

Abusing power rather than extending power

Some leaders try to control every outcome, but end up wasting the valuable talent of others on the team. They limit the team’s possibilities to those the leader is capable of personally producing. As long as a leader refuses to release authority to others there will be a roadblock in the way of the ultimate potential of the organization.

Making excuses for a weakness

These leaders never admit a fault or mistake — for themselves or the organization — even though everyone around them sees it. They hide flaws, pretend everything is “awesome”, and try to make you believe life couldn’t be better. The underlying problems of the team are never addressed or corrected. Strengths aren’t fully maximized because more energy goes to covering up places which aren’t wonderful.

Favoring popularity over progress

I’ve seen leaders who care more about people liking them than about achieving the goals of the organization. When this is the roadblock complacency and mediocrity become standards instead of excellence. Compromise is chosen over collaboration. Conflict is avoided and people will hear what they want to hear — but everyone is disappointed with the results.

Holding grudges instead of building bridges

I once worked with a leader who would never accept a challenge. Whenever he felt threatened he “blackballed” you into compliance or worked to get rid of you. These type leaders are diligent about protecting their image or reputation, so if you appear to question them they pit others on the team against you. They make it very difficult for people to know whether the leader is pleased with their efforts. Their style creates turf wars among team members as people scramble to meet the leader’s approval. Sides are chosen and the team’s abilities to effectively work together is limited.

Waiting for the perfect conditions rather than taking a risk

These leaders refuse to take steps of faith. They demand every detail be answered before a project is launched. They seldom place faith in other people because it’s too risky. This roadblock results in bored cultures and teams, slow or no growth, and eventual declines. The opportunity cost with this distraction is exponential.

I’m certain there are others. This list is only intended to get you thinking. Be honest, have you been a leader with one of these roadblocks? Again, we all throw up roadblocks at times in our leadership. We must attempt to eliminate those which cause the greatest disruption to progress. Discovering them and tearing them down may be a key to providing good leadership.

What roadblock would you add to my list?

Trusting Your Team With Decisions – How to Make the Best Decisions When A Quick Decision Is Needed

Handshake and teamwork

As a leader, I am forced to make dozens of decisions every day. I’ve learned the secret to making better decisions faster.

When I’m pushed for a quick answer — when everyone knows a decision needs to be made now, but without time to get all the information I would normally require to make a decision…

I empower people on my team to make the decision.

Sometimes I simply don’t have enough information or enough time to gather it — even though by position the decision would normally be mine to make. It happens frequently enough that I need to have a plan for those occasions. It happened frequently when I first arrived in a new church, in a new position. But, it keeps happening. There are decisions which need to be made quickly, but I don’t know the parameters we need to make the best decision as well as others on the team.

I could slow down progress. I could micromanage. Instead I empower. That’s the secret.

In times like this, the people on our staff:

  • Have more knowledge about the issue than I have.
  • Usually have an opinion of what we should do.
  • Often hope I’ll answer the way they want me to.

In those times, I will ask a question, such as, “What do you think we should do?” or “Are you comfortable enough to put your name behind it?” or “What would you do if you were me?”

Then I go with their instinct — maybe even over my own.

But — and this is key if you truly want people to give you input — I let them know I will back them in the decision.

And — equally important…

I let them know they will be also held partially responsible for the outcome.

  • I’m still on the hook.
  • I’ll support them completely.
  • Ill stand fully behind them.

But I’ll follow their lead on the issue.

It grants them authority, it allows them to buy into the decision, it grows their leadership, and it helps move the organization forward faster.

The principle:

If you want to lead people you have to trust the people you lead and let them own decisions with you.

Are you trusting the people on your team, yet still holding them accountable?