The truth about trust

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- What makes an Airman who has been in for over five years, promoted to below-the-zone, has all fives on their Enlisted Performance Reports and has won the John Levitow award at Airman Leadership School get out of the Air Force?

Perhaps they felt as if their career was not successful. Perhaps they were looking for more out of life. Or, perhaps their leaders failed them because there was a lack of trust.

As an equal opportunity specialist, I have seen too many situations in which so-called “leaders” are not taking care of their people by demonstrating integrity, respect, a caring nature or consideration. These are the attributes which inspire trust.

One of the greatest responsibilities an individual can have as a leader is to be placed in charge of the mental, physical and emotional needs of others. No matter your place in the rank system, this responsibility should not be taken lightly.

So what does being a leader mean? Throughout my 22-year U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Air Force career, I have come to learn that the most important trait a leader can have is trustworthiness. According to Merriam-Webster trust is, “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something in which confidence is placed.”
Solely because of the uniform we wear, the unspoken relationship of trust is present from day one. This powerful symbol stands for integrity, service before self and excellence in all we do.

Citizens of our great nation first impart their trust in our U.S. Air Force when they take their initial oath of enlistment as they raise their hand and promise to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. Here they are trusting in an organization which defends our nation’s freedoms.

As new trainees enter basic training, they trust in their training instructors to train them for war and protect them from harm. Upon becoming Airmen, they enter technical school and place their trust once again in the instructors who provide them with a solid foundation to perform their duties as an aircraft mechanic, a communications expert, a Chaplain’s Assistant or whatever career field they have entered. Afterwards they move on with a high degree of confidence, self-satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment because they have just completed a series of obstacles in which only 1.4% of the American population are able to complete.

The final stage in this evolution is the U.S. Air Force delivers a trained, bright and shiny new Airmen to you; the NCO, Senior NCO or officer. As a leader, it is your responsibility to be the example of technical proficiency, mental, physical and moral strength and most importantly impeccable trustworthiness. To that Airmen, you play the role of mother, father, teacher, mentor, preacher, disciplinarian. These roles may have been missing from them their whole lives. It is up to you to place them on the potter’s wheel and help mold them and shape them into the best Airmen they can be by exhibiting good character and a high level of competence.

Instilling trust within an Airmen is a responsibility which should also not be taken lightly. Your efforts in treating subordinates with dignity and respect go a long way in showing them you whole heartedly support their success. Leaders at all levels can promote trust within their organizations by the following LEADERS acronym:

Leaders act fairly and consistently

Emphasize open communication and accept feedback and input from subordinates

Allow subordinates to achieve their goals

Develop relationships by making and fulfilling commitments

Encouraging creative ideas and allowing individual innovation

Recognizing the importance of fulfilling promises and expectations

Sharing important information with subordinates when feasible

Instilling a trustworthiness mentality within your organization can drastically change the unit climate. These efforts show subordinates you are taking care of them. Placing your subordinates first as your organizations highest priority will yield a more successful unit.

Trust in leadership has a direct correlation to higher productivity levels, loyalty, retention, organizational commitment and overall morale. Take care of your Airmen, and they will take care of you.

Trust is something we all need, desire and seek. The best compliment to your personal leadership style and abilities would be hearing your Airmen tell you this: “Because I trust you, I will follow you to war!”