Trust the Force, Luke

The classic movie, “Star Wars: A New Hope,” features a scene aboard the spaceship Millennium Falcon in which a blindfolded Luke Skywalker attempts to use a lightsaber to deflect energy bolts from a floating drone. This scene is presented to the viewer as a Jedi training exercise. As the old Jedi Master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, calmly instructs Luke to “trust the Force,” Luke attempts to feel the energy bolts before they arrive. Luke gets zapped frequently, to the vast amusement of Han Solo.

As Obi-Wan repeatedly exhorts Luke Skywalker to “trust the Force,” Luke eventually manages to successfully deflect a few of the energy blasts. This is an important step for Luke: In order for a Jedi to exercise their powers, they must be able to feel the Force and trust it. If they can’t trust the Force, all their tricks collapse like a cheap special effect.

Trust, the speed of trust, the importance of trust, and almost anything else that has anything to do with trust, gets a great deal of press in business books and articles. There is a good reason for this: For a team to function at its maximum capacity, the leader must be able to trust the members. Trust, however, cannot be one way — the members must also be able to trust the leader and to trust one another. Unfortunately, trust is not something we can just turn on or off at will. Just because we are told to trust someone, or told how important it is to trust someone, doesn’t mean that we can immediately do it. As with Luke Skywalker learning to trust the Force, it takes time and practice for trust to develop.

In a very real sense, trust and safety go hand in hand: When we don’t trust someone, we don’t feel safe around them and, conversely, when we don’t feel safe around someone we also don’t trust them. We tend to be more on our guard and less willing to engage. Commitment, innovation, feedback, and intelligent risk taking are sharply reduced. Careless risk taking, on the other hand, tends to increase.

Trust, it must be remembered, is a two way street. As your employees learn to trust you, you also learn to trust them. That means developing an accurate picture of their strengths and weaknesses. If you force people to operate in their areas of weakness, they will be more likely to fail. This reduces your trust in them and causes them to view you as setting them up for failure. That, in turn, reduces their trust in you.

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