Effective Leadership Requires Trust

My partner and I, working in plainclothes, were on the trail of a dangerous criminal. Our investigation led us to a rundown trailer park that also had a few small cabins for short-term guests. The manager told us two residents fit the description of the wanted suspect. One resided in trailer 38 and the other lived in one of the small, shingled cabins close by. We decided to try the cabin first.

It was my turn to take the front door. Once my partner took his position at the rear door, I stepped up on the small front porch. The dilapidated boards squeaked with my weight, and I saw movement through the rusted screen door. Knowing our suspect was armed, I jerked open the screen door, breaking the small latch. Stepping through the door, I saw our suspect standing partially in the doorway of a small kitchenette. Both of his arms were extended toward the back door in a two-handed shooting position. He was leaning back to look at me, but the wall concealed half of his body. I couldn t see the gun.

I pointed my gun at him while displaying my badge with my other hand. I shouted, Police! Freeze! He jumped out of sight. Then I saw his foot come back into view, pointed toward me. His body began moving into view in a crouched position. I thought, He s going to shoot me. I dropped my badge and began putting pressure on the trigger.

Suddenly, I heard my partner shout, Bob, hold it! He had apparently entered the small cabin through the back door and occupied the same room as the suspect. My partner was telling me not to shoot. But why? It was an agonizing moment in time. All my instincts told me to shoot.

The situation turned into a matter of trust. My experiences with my partner overwhelmed my own perceptions. He had integrity and I knew I could trust him. I did not understand the why, but in that instant of time, I decided to follow his leadership. Thank God I did. The man was not the assailant we were after, and he was not armed.

After the adrenaline rush subsided, the story emerged. The man in the cabin was peeling potatoes at the small sink in the kitchen. He heard someone step on his porch and stepped backward into the doorway to see who was there. He held a partially peeled potato over the sink, extending his arms. A stranger jerked the screen door open and pointed a gun at him shouting, Police! Freeze! He was frightened. He flinched. The slippery potato shot out of his hands like a bar of soap. In reflex action, he went after it. It all made sense once I understood all of the facts. By the way, we later arrested our suspect in trailer 38, without any resistance or problems.

Trust Is Earned, Not Conferred

This true story illustrates the connection between trust and leadership. For people to follow a leader when facts are limited, their trust must be in place. In most cases involving leadership, the followers do not have all of the particulars.

Every phase of leadership necessitates trust. Followers must trust the leader is taking them in the right direction. They must trust their leader will support their actions as long as they operate within the agreed-upon parameters. They must believe their leader will keep commitments. They must count on their leader s judgment. Perhaps most importantly, followers must expect their leader s motives are not self-centered, but rather, stem from the interests of those being led. In short, leadership and trust are inseparable.

You can t have trust conferred upon you, however. You must earn it. There is understandably little or no trust in a person who lies, breaks promises or demonstrates a pattern of weak character. Trust is built upon observations of consistent behavior that demonstrate integrity.

Steps to Bolster Integrity

Strengthening integrity is not an easy job, especially if you ve compromised your integrity in the past. The practical steps detailed below will help you make the worthwhile effort.

Perform Introspection

Reflect on your own actions and behaviors, and make a conscious decision to pursue integrity.

Go Public

Declare your goal to your relevant group. Define for them, in practical terms, what integrity means to you. Provide examples to illustrate your definitions. One example of integrity is not making technically accurate statements with intent to deceive (e.g., saying, Tell the caller I m not in, as you step out of your office).

Consider these benefits of publicizing your plan to pursue integrity:

  • You will teach valuable lessons about character;
  • You will model character traits, such as humility and courage; and
  • You will demonstrate your commitment to personal growth.

Solicit Feedback

Ask your followers to give you feedback, and explain the importance of their input. Receiving feedback can prove difficult. Follow these guidelines:

  • Fight the impulse to defend yourself;
  • Keep silent except to clarify an issue;
  • Take notes (This demonstrates your interest); and
  • If followers are more comfortable providing feedback anonymously, ask for written, unidentified comments.

Seek Assistance

Ask your followers to hold you accountable if you begin to violate a principle of integrity. In other words, give them permission to bring it to your attention.

In Summary

Earned trust will reap the harvest of loyal followerson point.

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