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High-Trust Leadership & Followership

Great leaders, managers, teammates and followers come in all shapes, sizes and styles. But there is one ingredient they all have in common. The great ones — the ones you remember fondly and would gladly work with again — possess a high level of trustworthiness.

George Dom   |   12th November 2014
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George Dom George Dom

Captain George Dom, USN(Ret) is president and founder of NFS Advisors, an aviation consultancy...
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Who is the very best leader you ever worked for?

Great leaders, managers, teammates and followers come in all shapes, sizes and styles. But there is one ingredient they all have in common. The great ones—the ones you remember fondly and would gladly work with again—possess a high level of trustworthiness.

There are two great misconceptions regarding trust:

1. Being reasonably honest and technically competent at your job is all that is necessary to be trusted.
2. Trust occurs naturally on teams simply by putting “good people” together.

High performance leaders and teams don’t view trust-building as some sort of warm and fuzzy idea cooked up by Human Resources. Great teams view a high-trust culture as a non-negotiable core value that is absolutely critical for success. They recruit for trustworthiness, they train to build it, they reward, promote and follow those who have it, and they quickly fire anyone who loses it.

More broadly, trust is the water in which all relationships swim. When the trust is high, the water is clear, the relationship is strong, everyone moves quickly with confidence and camaraderie. But when there is mistrust, the water darkens and everything is slowed by uncertainty, anxiety, anger and fear.

Trust Matters

Why should you care? Because trust is rewarded and the levels of trust have rarely been so low across all dimensions of modern life. Many have lost trust in government, media, business, banking, financial services, religious institutions, etc. Anyone who consciously works to build a reputation of trustworthiness will enjoy a significant professional and personal advantage. Trust is especially important in aviation because, as the saying goes, it is “unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect.”
Flight departments are in the trust business. Period. Everything they do is designed to earn and keep the trust of the people they serve. Imagine the impact if a pilot was not trusted to fly the company jet safely, a maintenance technician was not trusted to comply with airworthiness requirements, or an aviation manager was not trusted to control costs and accurately project future requirements.

Measuring our own trustworthiness is a challenge because trust is dynamic and requires continual attention and investment:

• You may be trusted today, but not tomorrow.
• You may be trusted by some colleagues, but not others.
• You may be trusted in some areas, but not all areas.

Too often we misjudge our trustworthiness by measuring it based on the people who trust us the most. “John trusts me, therefore I’m trustworthy. Bob doesn’t trust me – he must have trust issues.” What we believe about our own trustworthiness may be interesting, but it is not sufficient. What matters is what others think. Trust is a gift that must be regularly earned – it can’t be bought, demanded, expected or coerced.

Earning Trust

How can trust be achieved? What are the ingredients required to become highly trusted? Sometimes the best place to look for answers and insights is to examine extreme circumstances for universal principles. My 26-year career flying Navy strike-fighters off and on aircraft carriers, in combat, intense Topgun flight training, and high-speed/low-altitude Blue Angels flight demonstrations provided a living laboratory regarding building and preserving a high level of trust. In these life-and-death experiences there is no compromise when it comes to trust. It must be a non-negotiable core value for mission success and survival. And the lessons that are revealed can be applied to all our relationships – professional and personal – to make them stronger.

My Navy experience taught me there are five interrelated ingredients regarding trust-building. All five must be addressed – none can be neglected – and working on one contributes to the other four. For each element of trust there is a question your team, your boss, your partners and even your family members are asking about you consciously or unconsciously. Depending on the answers, they decide how much they will trust you.

The five components of trustworthiness are: character, commitment, competence, connection and communication.

• Character – Do you walk your talk?
• Commitment – Will you be there when times are rough?
• Competence – Are you skilled and relevant?
• Connection – Do they believe you understand them?
• Communication – Do they understand you?

Over the forthcoming issues of AvBuyer magazine, we will cover each component and discuss how you can raise the level of trust in your team and all your relationships.


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