Develop Trusted Agents

By | February 21, 2021

[February 21, 2021]  Develop trusted agents to provide feedback.  An early leadership lesson I learned was to listen closely to a few select people.  Carefully chosen, these folks can provide you with an extraordinary level of information necessary to succeed.

I always have people around me that I trust to tell me the brutal truth.  Harsh as it may seem, we all tend to listen to individuals who tell us things we like to hear.  These “yes men” are part of feel-good leadership and blind us to the landmines within complex organizations.

“If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking,” – General George S. Patton

 Over the first months in any leadership position, I develop trusted agents who provided feedback on steering the organization.  I use my wife, my enlisted advisor, the senior operations NCO, the Chaplain, my driver (like Radar on the television series MASH), and my fellow peer commanders. They helped keep me focused on bettering the organization in a positive way.

Beware of Groupthink:

There is, of course, a danger to any information network, regardless of intent.  A leader must be on the lookout for conformity in this group.  A well-known four-star general once told me that any informal network could bias my decision-making when they start to minimize conflict.  Thus, the importance of maintaining their trustworthiness.

Refine the Feedback Network:

I continue to refine this feedback network and tools for feedback by meeting with subordinate team leaders and a select few outside my organization but always brought that data back to my trusted agents for final vetting before making a decision.  Each of these individuals was explicitly tasked by me for uncensored, unvarnished information.

Of course, I am aware how any one of these people might misuse their trusted position, so I warn them about the possibility.  I also test their data against data I received from others, comparing and contrasting information to find where the feedback could be inaccurate or misleading.

Eating with the Privates:

I stay informed about my organization also through what I call eating with the Privates (those at the very bottom of the organization).  I do this because they are typically too frightened to lie to me.  While they see the world differently, this perspective can be beneficial.  The old saying that “shit rolls downhill” applies, and I want to know what it is like at the bottom of the hill.

I could never be successful in any leadership position without these people.  I am always polite, caring, and humble that they would voluntarily help me to accomplish the mission.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

22 thoughts on “Develop Trusted Agents

  1. Greg Heyman

    Important and often overlooked. Let’s never forget that people (that is what leadership is about anyway), selectively chosen because of their position, knowledge, and willingness can indeed help a leader immensely. I would hope any leader is able to also be wary of the possible abuse of these positions.

    1. rjsmithers

      Yes, another great one from Gen. Satterfield. Always like to read the article and then the comments… part of my entertainment for the day.

  2. Colleen Ramirez

    Hey folks, this is really really an important post by Gen. Satterfield. Let’s not underestimate “trusted agents” in our lives. Search them out, maybe you can be one at some point in your life, their value is underestimated because we don’t see them in action very often.

  3. Dale Paul Fox

    Excellent article on this Sunday. I look forward to this upcoming week and reading more. Gen. Satterfield, please consider another article on our political situation, esp. – if you don’t mind – on Pres Joe Biden who has rarely come out to speak with the people. Why hasn’t he? He will deserve the moniker “Basement Joe” if he doesn’t start speaking directly to the people. Thanks for your consideration.

    1. Frank Graham

      Biden only has half a brain. He had a CNN townhall last week when he said, upon waking up in the White House living quarters: “I get up in the morning, look at Jill, and say ‘where the hell are we?’” I wonder what he was thinking (or not thinking). And this guy is president of the USA? No way.

      1. Dern McCabe

        Yes, he is president and as such we should defer some respect for the office.

      2. Anya B.

        Be careful now, the big govt (read that as CIA and FBI) are watching you, along with the Big Tech oligarchs. Be very careful what you write as they may come for you.

        1. Willie Shrumburger

          Now that’s scary but is the result of us allowing cheating in elections to continue.

  4. Otto Z. Zuckermann

    Another blog post that is on target. I spent a lot of time in team leadership positions over the past few years, and found this strategy to be very effective. The secret is finding those people and to make sure they don’t use their position for personal gain.

      1. Yusaf from Texas

        Ha Ha, yes, of course, that is why we all come here, to read a bit about leadership and to improve ourselves, not just as a leader but as a person, as well.

      2. Anya B.

        I think we’ve all spent time as team leaders in various organizations and asked our personal selves what can we do to do better. That question is only for good leaders who are REAL and not FAKE. There are many fake leaders – for various reasons. One of them on the national stage is Joe Biden, the biggest fake in the history of the world.

  5. corralesdon

    Excellent advice for good leadership. Thank you, Gen. Satterfield. 👍

  6. Eric Coda

    Interesting and true, of course. We all do this whether we realize it or not. The trick is to make sure these people tell you the unvarnished truth, otherwise you are screwed. Risky?

    1. Max Foster

      I agree, Eric, that this is a risky tactic of leaders but from my experience they all do it. We must have those nearby who are willing to tell us the truth even if it hurts greatly our egos or standing in the leadership community. That is the only way to insure we have a chance early to correct our deficiencies or solve problems that could grow big.

      1. Lady Hawk

        Good comments Eric and Max, as usual, you have nailed it. Leadership is not easy. You need assistance to do well. Even in the studies of chimps in the wild, their leaders also need help. This is not, IMO, not just a human phenomenon.

      2. Tom Bushmaster

        Yes, good analysis guys. I like this article because it gives us practical advice for a leader. But I would also note that it translates into any organization, including the family.

        1. Rev. Michael Cain

          Right, some family members have a proclivity to lie as well. Figure out those who can be trusted.


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