Lessons from the battlefield: building tribal trust

One military concept is to deliver your message two levels down, but assign tasks one level down. This allows everyone to understand the importance of ...

In many ways, trust in your organization has a similar affect as it has in the military. In today’s economy, large businesses are in a trench war, fighting to gain another share of their clients’ wallets, and many small businesses are in survival mode. Similar to the military, every decision a leader makes will build or destroy trust.

Trust is one of the most powerful forms of motivation and inspiration. A culture based on trust encourages leaders to ask questions, enables them to learn from their mistakes and empowers them to seize the initiative when they see an opportunity.

This sense of trust grows far beyond a few direct reports: it spreads throughout an entire company.

In business, trust will also encourage your junior leaders to put forward ideas, learn through failure and pursue opportunities when they appear to grow the business.

It creates a safe and supportive environment where questions are asked and information flows both ways. It further benefits the leaders by exposing them to new ideas and different perspectives on the same issues.

Building trust

So what can you do to build more trust in your organization’s culture? It starts with you and your willingness to trust. Your team wants to be trusted and will thrive. If you overcome fear and are open to being vulnerable.

Taking this risk demonstrates to your staff that you already trust them and they will not be afraid to open up to you in return. The knowledge you gain of their strengths and weaknesses at this deeper level will enable you to build teams and delegate tasks more effectively and with more confidence.

A second way to build trust is through your communication and your ability to keep your team informed.

One military concept is to deliver your message two levels down, but assign tasks one level down. This allows everyone to understand the importance of what you expect in terms of the overall goal while avoiding micro-management.

Third, lead by example, but don’t be indispensible. This is a huge shift in thinking for many leaders, but this mindset makes your culture much more empowering.

Some of the best leaders are never hesitant to jump in and get themselves dirty. Yes, they were busy and they had a lot on their minds, but they realized that these were opportunities to get to know their team at a deeper level. At the same time, let go of your need to be needed and train your people to think for themselves.

Leaders are needed in the business world, and we cannot continue to depend on hiring this talent externally. We now realize we must grow our leaders from within, but none of this can begin until we build trust.

An exemplary leader will create a culture in his or her business that enables others to act and empowers their team to reach their full potential as they are not afraid to make mistakes.

True leaders understand that personal development is most powerful when learned through failure. Furthermore, they prioritize the time to connect with their employees to identify their values in order to best motivate them.

You may not be able to spend 24 hours a day with your staff or sleep in the trench with them, but if you can identify ways to build tribal trust, you will be that leader your employees will emulate for the rest of their lives. •

Ricardo Manmohan is an officer with the Royal Westminster Regiment and a certified executive coach. (ricardo@yournextwave.ca). As part of its 150th anniversary, the regiment will be sharing leadership lessons that can be applied to your organization. http://150.royal-westies-assn.ca

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