Leadership must be built upon a bedrock of trust.
This need is obvious in combat, when soldiers must trust their officers to make sound judgment and not to risk the lives and safety of their men needlessly or carelessly. In turn, officers must trust their soldiers to do their duty, and to strive to fulfill not only the specific order given, but the spirit of what the mission is trying to accomplish.
Equally important, but often overlooked, is the need for trust in the staff roles so critical to the functioning of our armed forces. If we want our military to continue to evolve and advance, we require the overall organization – and the individual men and women who comprise it – to innovate. Innovation requires personal and professional risk: of failing to achieve an objective, trying something new that doesn’t work, and possibly looking foolish in the eyes of those we respect and report to. That risk requires trust.
Yet we often fail to take the time to purposefully build that sense of trust. Small critical actions and behaviors that can have a large impact in the long run are abandoned in a rush to get “just a little more” done, or to complete a task “just a little bit” faster. Leaders worry about how they will be perceived and judged if the people under them fail, regardless of the consequence of that failure (or lack thereof).
Yet if trust is so critical to our own success as leaders and to enabling the success of those who we are mentoring and leading, we must take the time to build that bedrock today–before we have to rely on it in a time of need. How can we do that?