How To Use A Trust-Based Approach To Leadership And Management

Whether you’re thinking about relationships in the business world or in your personal life, doesn’t adopting a trust-based approach, rather than trying to control and micro-manage every detail, sound good? 

Of course it does. Learning to trust rather than control will change your perspective on life and allow you to more clearly see the world. Control, by its nature, is limiting. No matter who you are, you only have so much time and energy, and if you choose to spend it fussing over details best left to others, you are restricting your scope, influence and outreach. Trust, on the other hand, empowers you and enables you to delegate to others what doesn’t absolutely require your attention. 

So, why do we control anyway?

The urge to unduly control others is often a symptom of unfortunate childhood experiences, such as parental lackings, negative school experiences or dependency issues. If a person has suffered betrayal, alienation or stifling discipline as a child, the frequent result is a need to make the world more predictable and stable, and thusly safer. 

Dominating people, situations and environments can make an individual temporarily feel safer, but because it doesn’t address the root of the problem, the anxiety continues.

The solution to this problem is, of course, to be less controlling and more trusting. But because the person with a controlling personality is often unaware of their actions — and the extent of the damage they are causing — change can be a tall order indeed. MORE FOR YOU

Learning To Lose Control

Control issues are often especially problematic in the business world where the pressure to perform and succeed can make it seem imperative to control rather than to trust. Whether it’s dealing with family members, supervisors, fellow workers or customers, some people handle the attendant anxiety by micro-managing, being reluctant to delegate or by being suspicious of things that aren’t inherently problematic. 

One of the main drawbacks of being overly controlling is creating employees who are then unwilling to take risks. This can stifle innovation and creativity and lead to a culture that is distrustful, afraid and behind the curve.  

The solution to the problem lies in trust-based management. Rather than attempting to control results and the actions of others, trust-based management is about delegating. By giving individuals and teams more responsibility, both productivity and creativity are enhanced. High levels of trust tend to lead to greater job satisfaction, better morale and pride in the company. 

Technology And The Illusion Of Control

Technology is often no friend to a controlling leader. While many apps on the market today were designed to efficiently monitor behavior and analyze data, they can shift the true focus of a project, with an inordinate amount of time spent on tracking minutiae.

While this abundance of technology and data can be helpful when used judiciously and effectively, it can also provide an illusion of control. With technology, the world can seem more predictable. Such apps can act like bandages, covering over more significant problems the manager hasn’t yet identified because he or she was too busy reviewing app-generated analysis. Think about how much time you are devoting to control by means of an app and how much you should spend relating to the people around you.

Cultivating Trust With Emotional Intelligence

We’re starting to understand why trust is better than undue control. So then the question becomes, “How do I give up that pseudo comforting control I have become accustomed to and become a more trusting individual?” Or said another way, “How can I cultivate enough confidence in myself in order to delegate and trust?” 

It’s not easy, because relinquishing control gives others more power over our outcomes. It makes us more vulnerable to the actions of others, but it can be done. You can accomplish it in three main phases.

• Be honest with yourself. You have to cultivate the self-awareness to admit that you are overly controlling.

• Ask for help. In a personal relationship, you might ask a friend or partner to call you on your controlling behavior. In a business relationship, it might be a mentor or trusted superior who does it. Whoever it is, such outreach brings a double benefit. It helps you eliminate your controlling behavior and at the same time, the act of trusting the other person builds connection, communication and further trust. 

• Start trusting. Begin with small steps if necessary, but start delegating. Delegate a little and then if you like the results, delegate more. You will see that your reports require less supervision and that you free up your time for more important tasks.

Each of these three steps can be more easily accomplished by enhancing and honing your emotional intelligence (EI). Better EI will not only help you recognize that you have a problem, it will also help you deal with it.

For myself, I have developed a trust-based short mantra which I repeat every time I catch myself starting to over-control. I say to myself, “I will let this situation unfold without attempting to manage every aspect of how it plays out.” Develop your own mantra and then recite it to yourself every time you feel that over-controlling urge.


You can achieve happiness by being more in charge of your life, but that’s not the same as controlling every aspect of it. Having and making choices is not the same as controlling everything and everyone around you. When you trust people, you bring new energy and experiences into your life. You take new chances and move out of your comfort zone. New experiences can make you a stronger person and will empower you to live more fully. This can only happen when you can recognize your behavioral patterns and supercharge your personal development toward happiness.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

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