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Empowerment and Trust

A tale of steak and whisky

· Leadership

Last night, before hitting the gym, I stopped by a pub to buy some tickets for steak and whisky tasting event (yep) for the day after. I'd already called ahead to book but was told that I had to come in person and make the payment in advance.

I walked up to the bar, making my way through the patrons taking part in the quiz night that was taking place, and asked to make the advance payment for tomorrow's steak and whisky event.

Immediately I could see that the staff became uncomfortable and unsure. The many bartenders started discussing something between themselves and looked over now and again at the man conducting the quiz night.

I repeated once again that I wanted to buy tickets for an event that this venue is running tomorrow, Eventually one of the male bartenders gestured behind my shoulder, pointing to a man conducting the quiz night and said I have to go speak to him. I replied that I wasn't going to interrupt a quiz night (the music round!) by walking up to the host and asking to buy tickets, but I wasn't going to wait until it was finished either.

The male bartender made his way towards the area that the quiz night was taking place, looking for an opportunity to grab the host's attention. I watched on, slightly confused.

Turned to the other staff, I asked if they knew there was an event tomorrow, to which they replied yes. Good start, I thought. I showed the staff the Facebook event page and told them that I'd called ahead and got told to drop off the payment in advance. I asked if I could leave the money with them, that there were four of us coming tomorrow at 8pm, and they can pass on the message and the payment to the host if that was what their process was.

I could sense frustration building in the male bartender, perhaps mirroring my own. The bartenders (as a collective) eventually agreed and I handed over the cash. At this point, another (very friendly) man who had the air of being the owner or manager or of some authority came over to check if everything was okay. The bartenders explained the situation and the male bartender who took my money said "I'm taking the money now" as he showed us the cash. The boss (?) affirmed in a friendly and encouraging manner.

When I speak with those in positions of leadership, 'empowerment', 'ownership' and 'accountability' are things they often say they want to develop in their teams. These make for an effective team and it's a joy to lead team members who have these in abundance.

When I reflect on the events of last night, I notice that these things were being demonstrated by some of the bartenders but also that there was room for a lot more. The bartenders were keen to help me get what I wanted - to pay for the event, which is also what their business wants - and succeeded in doing so.

And yet there was unnecessary friction to the process. Many correctly point to the need to develop critical thinking skills in the Cambodian workforce. For me though, the word 'trust' comes up most strongly as I think about the friction that I experienced last night.

I ask, what would the experience have been like if trust was in abundance?

  1. Trust from the staff to the quiz master
  2. Trust from the quiz master to the staff
  3. Trust between the staff and the boss (regarding money)

Who is responsible for developing this trust?

As leaders, it is our responsibility to build the required trust in our teams. Often we give our team members tasks and freedom to 'empower' them and encourage 'ownership' of tasks. Yet trust is the foundation without which empowerment and ownership cannot take place effectively.


  1. If your team trusted each other completely, how would your workplace be?
  2. Step forward in time 6 months. Your team has complete trust in each other. What's happened in the last 6 months to make this possible?
  3. How were you 'being' towards your team?
  4. How were your team 'being' to make this possible?
  5. What did you do to help your team 'be' this way?