One of my first official jobs after university was the temporary management of a private pharmacy. This was one of those things, were you could subscribe as a fresh graduate to the society of pharmacists to see if they had any temporary jobs for you. I was lucky in that I immediately was contacted because there was a pharmacy in the south of the country, where the owner was going to a congress in Australia and wanted to add some vacation to the trip. In short, they needed somebody to take care of the pharmacy for one month.
So, I drove down for an official introduction and handover meeting with the owner.
Chaos is the only word I can use to describe the pharmacy I entered. It turned out that the owner had just spend two years building a new pharmacy in a new location, while running the shop from the old building and they had literally just moved to the new building.
Needless to say, my introduction was short, and the handover basically consisted of a tour through the building, the handover of the company credit card and the comment: “You have just graduated from university, so you know exactly what should be done, so good luck. I will be back in a month.”
That was it, no contact details, no mobile phone numbers or emails, because they simply did not exist at that time. I was all on my one in a foreign city, in a pharmacy with people, I had never met before. Oh, and by the way, not sure how it is now, but at that time, I had learned a lot about pharmacology, pharmacokinetics and dynamics and manufacturing, but absolutely NOTHING about running a shop, let alone a pharmacy.
So I thought I better introduce myself to the assistants and ask them what they normally do and who does what.
Turned out that they knew exactly what needed to be done, but were never allowed to do this by the owner.
This is where ignorance was bliss.
First, I could pretend that I did not know they were normally not allowed to do these activities.
Secondly, because I genuinely had no idea, I did rely on their experience and enthusiasm and distributed and delegated several tasks amongst the assistants.
This allowed me to focus on the administration, the internal lab of the pharmacy (which was non-existent), of course the quality control of the prescriptions and the interactions with the local physicians, while the assistants were de-facto running the shop.
On the other hand, it allowed the assistants to grow in their job, take more responsibility and generally have more fun in their work. Because they knew the work itself, the assistants were very conscious about what they did not know and therefore knew exactly when they needed to come to me and ask for advice. This created a perfect synergy and environment of trust, where everyone could contribute the best of what they were best at.
I am not sure whether a certain level of ignorance is required to get that level of trust, but it sure does help if you don’t pretend to know everything. I have had the pleasure of working with a few people, who had this innate ability to let go of their assumptions, who had no hidden agendas and who genuinely relied on the people they were working with. These are the people that make a difference and who make you want to come to work every day.
Throughout my career, I have gone through many organization structures, but I can safely say that the ones were there was a clear culture of trust were by far the most successful and the most fun to work in.
So, no matter what level of the organization you are in or how long or short you are at your position, be genuine, realize that the collective of people always knows more than the individual and give your people the benefit of the doubt. Trust them.