During my Air Force career, I had many opportunities to lead men and women in peacetime and in combat. Whether on the battlefield or in the boardroom, leadership is not limited to any particular environment. While you will hear people say leaders are born, not made, anyone can adopt best leadership practices and see their employees improve their performance and their business should succeed.
In this blog, I would like to focus on another of the nine leadership principles that I believe fueled my success. In my last two blogs, I addressed the first, the importance of developing relationships. In today’s blog, I will discuss developing trust that flows down from the leader and up from the employees.
In future blogs, I will continue with fostering teamwork, creating a climate where people want to come to work, practicing integrity, taking charge, practicing leadership by walking around, maintaining credibility, and maintaining perspective.
So, what about trust and why is it so important that it flows up and down? During the Iraq invasion, I commanded a squadron of Special Ops MC-130 Talons. We supported Special Forces behind enemy lines, pumped gas for their helicopters, performed supply drops, dropped bombs, and transported the best of America’s military into the combat zone – doing whatever the good guys needed to get the bad guys.
Trust brings to mind two specific operations that have since become public knowledge, operations Rhino and Gecko launched on October 19th. Rhino’s objective was to establish a desert landing strip to the Southwest of Kandahar for our aircraft. Gecko’s objective was a large, walled compound in the city of Kandahar, the headquarters for the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar.
We dropped Special Operations Ground Forces into the combat zones. We flew into enemy territory, at very low level on night vision goggles, and refueled the special ops helicopters. Then we would go back out, refill our gas tanks from the big tankers, and then head back behind enemy lines. That lasted all night long. It required pinpoint accuracy from everyone to ensure the gas kept flowing to those in the action without anybody running into each other or running out of gas. Our missions lasted 14 to 15 hours!
After 9/11, my unit was mobilized for two years. We received many accolades, and even to this day, the squadron is the most highly decorated Reserve Unit in the Air Force. I am proud we flew over 5,000 hours of accident-free combat flying, not least in the challenging conditions we faced. We trusted ourselves to provide elite services, but more importantly, we were trusted by our fellow soldiers on the ground that relied heavily on us to get their jobs done as well. During our time in the desert, when Army Special Forces needed helicopter refueling behind enemy lines, they specifically called for “Beef’s guys,” because they trusted us for our “never give up, never fail” attitude. That is what I am most proud of, it’s the most honorable compliment we received.
Trust is equally important in our world. I believe you can better inspire stellar performance when your folks know, top to bottom, that you trust them. Trust them to take the training they have had and run with it. Trust them to make good decisions and innovate within their workplace. Trust them to go out and make money for you. With the internal trust created in the organization, your clients or customers will also learn to trust you as well, like the Army Special Forces trusted the Air Force during Rhino and Gecko. Most of all, let them know they can trust you to recognize their efforts, the trust will then flow top to bottom, and bottom up.
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