"The luckiest bosses in this world may be those with a sincere subordinate who works hard and faithfully supports them. But lucky subordinates don't earn their bonuses with sincerity. They earn them with results. "
-Passable Idea 01, AGS author
IN the context of the office, "Sincerity" is a one-way concept: how you feel about the work that you do for your boss. "Trust", on the other hand, is more multi-dimensional: it's about how your boss feels about the work that you do for him/her. What is the trouble that comes with being sincere at work? The answer is that sincerity is a virtuous sentiment that, like many sentiments, can make it all about 'U U U'.
I became dimly aware of this problem about 2.5 years ago during a closed door session where my boss was, with much agitation, questioning me about pending assignments that I owed him. As his frustrations peaked, he said something that stunned me: "You know, I trust Vanessa to deliver on all the projects I give her. I can't trust you." (Vanessa was my direct teammate.)
It was a simple statement, but I respected the man a lot and I'd worked very hard for him, so it cut deep. To make things worse, I had never imagined that he saw me this way. I'd always believed that I was fundamentally a good worker. But the truth, it seemed, was that he didn't feel that he could count on me.
Eventually, I moved on to other teams and bosses (though I've stayed good friends with this first boss). With age, I got more experienced and better at juggling work. Still, at times, a boss would pick at me for a small item that had lapsed. In those moments, I would always question why I got chided even though I'd already cleared many big and important assignments.
Somewhere deep inside, I was starting to vaguely grasp the simple answer to this problem. But the truth only crystallized completely for me, when I heard some wise advice during a special event attended by Lim Siong Guan, former head of the Singapore Civil Service.
When an audience member asked this distinguished leader about positive work habits, he said: “Most people don’t realize that the single most important thing at work is simply trustworthiness. Can you be trusted by your boss? Can you do the work he asks of you, meet his deadlines or negotiate with him in advance if you can’t meet those deadlines? People at work sometimes behave in a way that doesn’t reflect this understanding.” (quote is paraphrased).
His words helped me to finally see what I'd missed: Every assignment, no matter how small, can affect the well-being and social standing of the boss who gives it to me. And paying more attention to something as mundane as a timeline could do wonders to get me the trust that I'd always craved. Most importantly, I learnt that I had to stop seeing things in terms of how much sincerity and hard work I'd put in, and instead choose to see everything in terms of whether it built up or broke down trust between me and my boss.
From that point on, it became much easier for me to work smarter, rather than simply harder. And this, I suspect, is the underlying mental roadblock keeping many people from escaping the rut of working hard, instead of smart and hard. Many of us loyal workhorses actually know that we should find ways to act more intelligently, but we get too caught up in the heartbreak that comes whenever our efforts or kind gestures go unrecognized by our boss.
Maybe because of all the underdog stories we've absorbed through movies, we have come to believe this half-true idea that no matter how weirdly flawed or obnoxiously quirky we are, it's what's in our hearts that should really count most of all. In this romanticized world view, the tender-hearted soul that fails a ton of times but wins big in that one climactic moment eclipses any person who quietly but consistently comes through for people who depend on him.
When we feel that our superiors don't see that "heart of gold" inside us, we're easily tempted to think of ourselves as the victims... And a victim will see no need to rethink his ways.
Hard Work may not get you Trust
Sincerely Caring for Your Boss may not get you Trust
Being Reliable is what Gets You Trust
If a subordinate is sincere to his boss, then that boss is indeed blessed to have a worker who will never betray him. But that worker can only count on hope for his employer to recognize his good heart.
The subordinate who earns the backing of his boss and those around him by consistently recognising their daily needs, however, will one day be able to move mountains, because he finds he no longer has to move them alone.