Trust: The Leadership Difference
(December 12, 2010)
|SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. (12/8/2010 - AFNS) --
"Trust is the essence of leadership," retired Army Gen.
Colin Powell once said.|
When listing the characteristics of a leader, "vulnerable"
is an unlikely term to arise, but anyone who places his or
her trust in others is inherently "vulnerable." How a leader
approaches vulnerability falls on a spectrum ranging from
absolute paranoia to euphoric blind faith.
Most feelings of worry, especially paranoia, often generate
an unhealthy desire to manage situations and people,
irrational thoughts of being able to personally prevent
every error and an absence of trust. On the other extreme,
blind faith is equally unrealistic, considering the
inevitability of human error.
Both limit followers' potential. Somewhere in the middle is
the approach that effectively manifests in words and actions
as "I trust you," and unleashes the most capable performers.
Imagine an organization where every Airman knows and
complies with applicable technical orders, regulations and
directives; where every Airman reports to work and completes
tasks on time; where every Airman selflessly prioritizes
personal interests to optimize mission performance; where
every Airman is present because he or she has voluntarily
chosen to be a member of the unit; and where every Airman
recognizes he or she is a valued and important part of the
In the United States Air Force, creating that organization
requires leadership trust. The Airmen are already here. As a
leader, achieving the ability to say "I trust you," and
truly mean it, is as easy as believing in the Air Force core
values: integrity first, service before self and excellence
in all we do.
People will make mistakes. Mistakes may be simple human
error, or they may reflect deficiencies in training or
resourcing. Mistakes are not violations of the core values
and are not violations of trust.
From time to time, someone will commit a crime -- an act
that is willful and malicious or grossly negligent. A crime
is a violation of the core values and a violation of trust
between the leader and those responsible, not the
organization; and trust is sustained through the acceptance
of responsibility and the application of corrective or
administrative action. Unfortunately, both instances --
mistakes and crimes -- will challenge a leader's ability to
Henry Stimson, the secretary of war during World War II,
said, "The only way you can make a man trustworthy is by
trusting him, and the surest way to make him untrustworthy
is to distrust him and show your distrust."
To retain that trust approach is the difference of
Whether as a supervisor, commander, parent, deacon, teacher,
team lead or team member, we all will experience
opportunities to be a leader. An environment built upon the
most effective leadership trust will, in and of itself,
reward integrity, grow selfless servant-leaders and inspire
excellence. You cannot achieve the mission alone. Give your
trust to Airmen, and they will do incredible things!
By Lt. Col. Jefferson O'Donnell
333rd Fighter Squadron
Air Force News Service
Comment on this article