Getting to "Dollhouse Trust"

A couple of summers ago, My friend Francisco helped my neighbors, Matt and Meredith, move into their new house. A group of us had gathered to lend a hand because, well, that’s what you do for your friends. You lovingly help them move (up two flights of stairs) their disassembled Bowflex home gym that they bought and swore they’d use every day. In the midst of the loading and unloading, Meredith caught Francisco’s attention and made a special request related to a prized possession of her two-year old daughter. She said, “Francisco, I trust you to move this dollhouse. I don’t trust those other guys. But you, I trust.”

He told me that he never moved a piece of furniture so carefully in my life.

Meredith had chosen him. Meredith had trusted him. And it played on something deep within him. She didn’t hover or try to control the situation. She simply chose him, trusted him, and she told him she was doing so.

NY Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author Dan Pink calls this element of motivation “autonomy.” American psychologist Fredrick Herzberg explained it in his classic work on motivational factors as knowing that our decisions make a difference. No matter how you articulate it, it is deeply motivating (and satisfying!) to be given the responsibility for something meaningful and the authority to make it happen. This is also known as being trusted. It creates ownership that fuels a sense of purpose, follow through, care, and commitment. In short, it unleashes motivation.

Imagine if Meredith had instead announced, “Ok! I need someone to move this dollhouse. Anyone will do because I’ve got a detailed plan for how you’re going to do it. Oh, and I’ll be right over there, you know, just to make sure everything goes okay.”

Slightly less inspiring.

Yet at times, we as leaders are tempted to not trust. We try to manage the detailed actions of someone to achieve a particular end result. Even with the best intentions, that doesn’t create ownership for others. It doesn’t inspire purpose, follow through, care, or commitment within our followers. It doesn’t unleash motivation.

When we trust our followers, we create ownership and motivation within them. That’s exactly what Meredith did for Francisco. She tapped into a core human motivation by choosing and trusting him to do something that mattered. That dollhouse made it to her daughters new bedroom as pristine as it was in her old bedroom. Francisco accomplished that. And he was proud of it.  Not only for having done it, but because Meredith chose and trusted him to do it. And on top of the job getting done, the relationship improved as well.

Share Your Thoughts:  When and how have you been able to create ownership and motivation within those following you by intentionally choosing and trusting them with important projects? We'd love to hear from you. Join the conversation by clicking here.Click here to receive free postings from Tim Spiker and The Aperio. As a thank you, you'll receive the first two chapters of The Only Leaders Worth Following: Why Some Leaders Succeed, Others Fail, and How the Quality of Our Lives Hangs in the Balance.