By Jeremy Arnold

“Make a decision.”

I was seventeen, newly engaged, and keen to impress a boss who had taken me on at The Source (Canada’s RadioShack) just prior to Christmas in an act of faith. I’d come in some midweek morning, my little sister in tow, to drop off a resume. He said they weren’t hiring this close to the holidays, but that he’d keep it on file. As this was about the tenth time I’d heard that during my rounds, I went home despondent, figuring I didn’t have much hope of making it on anywhere until the new year.

I’d been sitting down maybe 30 minutes when the phone rang. “Hey, are you the young guy who was just in here? Can you start tomorrow morning?” I’d eventually learn that another employee had been coming in late, and that Erik had been wanting to replace them. And it just so happens that my resume included the words “fast learner”, which he took as gospel. My sole interview question was “is that true?”, which was a very Erik-like thing to do. He trusted people, even when very young and very green, until they gave him a reason (or two) not to. And he went out of his way to prove it.

My second day on the job, he gave me the cash deposit to take to the bank. This was closely followed by a store key. I remember asking him: “Erik, this seems a bit foolhardy, no? I mean, I trust me. But I’m still a relative stranger to you.” He saw it in a much more common-sense sort of way. Thieves are statistical rarities, and I’d be a better employee if I felt that he expected reliability and excellence from me. (He also told me later on that the second trigger was that he knew my little sister — actually the youngest daughter of the couple who took me in when I left home in my teens — wasn’t my own kid. He figured that if someone could trust me with their child, he could trust me with his store.)

Even so, he’d placed me in a sink-or-swim situation. And as part of wanting to do well to reward his faith, I asked a lot of questions. An awful lot. Some of these were warranted, not having had time to be fully trained before the Christmas rush began. But oftentimes the questions were procedural. Customer wanted this, our policy said that, so I’d go and sound Erik out on whether an accommodation could be made. I had the sense to present the financial ROI to him, but still had a young person’s deference against doing anything with that information other than bringing it to him.

One day someone wanted a package deal on an open-box camera and a few accessories. I knew the margins were good, and that we likely wanted to clear out that particular model. But it was a non-trivial discount, and I wanted Erik’s blessing. So I went to find him, only to see that he was with a customer himself. I waited patiently at his elbow, as my customer waited back at the till, until Erik eventually turned to me and said: “Jeremy, go make a decision.”

This was a revelation to me. And it had a deep influence on how I went on to train young leaders. So long as you have regular calibration sessions to check in on which decisions were made and why, the risk cost is generally very low. In my years of doing non-profit work with young people under me (camp leaders and the like), I can think of exactly once that this trust backfired — to the net loss of maybe $50. But the upsides of having energetic workers motivated by your faith in them? Priceless.

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