General Colin Powell has said “Trust is the essence of leadership.” This is something I think most of us can agree upon. We want leaders we trust are looking out for our best interests. However, are WE leaders others can trust?
All of us can think of a leader who we would follow into battle without question. Also, we can think of numerous leaders we would not follow to the break room. It is all centered on trust. The challenge for leaders is trust is something we have to earn and it takes time and effort on our part. I am not claiming to have the panacea to earning this from my team, but I have a simple philosophy that has worked for me over the years: Be visible, Be interested, and Be involved.
My last two assignments are perfect examples of how this works. My previous assignment was replacing someone who I respect and look up to on so many levels. Aaron is a fantastic friend, mentor, SNCO, supervisor, husband, father, and just an overall solid dude. I was very intimidated to take the torch from him, because of the respect everyone had for him and the foundation of trust he had built. I thought for sure I was going to crash and burn. However, I followed my own advice and was able to build upon the foundation he had laid and our team did some great things.
Contrast that to my current assignment. The person I replaced was not trusted at all. I would watch people walk right past my office and go straight to the commander. After some digging, the stories I heard would make your jaw drop. I immediately knew I had to earn the trust of my team. It took about five months to get to a point where I could actually say trust for my position was regained. I started this process by sticking to the same plan of being visible, interested, and involved.
Be visible. It is amazing how quickly we dismiss this particular item. We get very busy doing all sorts of things on a daily basis. It is very easy to become chained to the desk and answer the barrage of emails and tackle each new suspense. Often we are so consumed with doing things like awards, decorations, EPRs, etc. for our people, we forget about the actual people. Think about how much you respected and appreciated the bosses that came out to the job and spoke to you. They discussed personal stuff, told a joke, and were not just seeking you out to let you know you have training coming due. These are the leaders you respected.
We do typically get tied down answering so many questions and working on all the issues of the unit, we tend to believe there is more value added to staying on task. Truthfully, we all need a break from the desk and computers. What better way than to get to know our people better and to let them get to know us. This leads us right into being interested.
I can’t help but to be intrigued as I watch others do their jobs. Seeing how they work through problems and work the everyday systems always gives me more perspective. There are always questions that arise about how things are being done and I usually get the opportunity to clarify why some of the decisions have been made from supervision. However, most importantly, I get to see how things are done and the struggles and success of the team firsthand. This helps me make smarter decisions that may impact them and to sometimes see potential issues before they make it all the way up the chain which saves a lot of potential questions I would get from the boss.
Ironically, by leaving my desk, I can save myself some work because I can stomp out the sparks before they become actual fires. When we see how things really work with our own eyes, it provides a chance for us to get involved. Seeing they are tracking the same thing on 5 local trackers, we can help and streamline their job by getting rid of unneeded tasks. Often many of the problems they are having are within my realm to address or delete. The only caution is to not leap into action before discussing with all who could be involved. Once, I made a decision to stop doing something and it turned out their boss used that info to make some important decisions at his level.
Whether you are in a position where trust is high or low because of your actions or those who came before you, it is possible to strengthen or rebuild trust. Simply, be visible, be interested, and be involved.