Start by Rebuilding Trust

By | October 1, 2019

[October 1, 2019]  Years ago, as a Captain, I was asked to take command of an Army unit that had suffered many problems.  I would never turn down such an opportunity to help, so I agreed to command a Combat Heavy Engineer company.  By all measures, the unit was broken.  The mission was simple; “fix it.”  So I began with a direct, proven strategy of rebuilding trust within the company.

A U.S. Army Engineer company is not a large organization.  It has nearly 300 soldiers, several tens of millions of dollars in equipment, and often a mission to improve the infrastructure of military bases.  This was a real test of my leadership skills.  I had experience with troops at the platoon level (about 35 soldiers) and with a staff section (about 15 soldiers).  The larger unit was to be a challenge in many ways.

Leadership is, of course, a sacred trust.  It means strengthening the bonds of brotherhood, ensuring loyalty and duty, setting forth the attributes of good behavior (and bad), and finding the path to success.  Any organization that is in trouble will struggle with the bonds that allow trust in our fellow human beings to grow.  This is no easy task when a group of people have had their trust betrayed.  To regain trust means surmounting obstacles that requires an intense focus on the basics.

I began by always being honest and open; telling the truth and speaking from the heart.  There was no need to sugarcoat the problem; everyone knew the unit had ceased to function.  That’s one thing I liked about the job of command; you don’t have the luxury of sparing the feelings of your soldiers.  But you must listen and there is no substitute for taking the time it requires to properly listen to your people.

Promises were made and I would keep them all.  First, I told them that I was there for them to help our soldiers overcome pay problems, equipment shortages, worn-out barracks, and a long-list of troubles.  This took time and there were setbacks.  Second, the leadership team I assembled knew this would happen but our never-wavering positive outlook began to slowly win over even the most zealous holdout.  And third, I would see that each soldier was clear about my vision of how the unit would eventually be the best in our battalion.

I stepped into command of the Engineer Company 27 years ago today.  On a small parade field with the men and women of my company and the presence of the Battalion Commander we traded guidons and in doing so passed the responsibility that I would forever treasure.  It all began with a simple task; rebuild the trust that had been lost.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

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

20 thoughts on “Start by Rebuilding Trust

  1. Jane Fillmore

    I really like this leadership blog and this article is one of the reasons I like it. A friend suggested I spend a few minutes each day going thru articles and he was right. Today’s subject about trust cannot be emphasized enough.

  2. Tomas Clooney

    Any group or organization that has lost trust among it’s members is in a heap of trouble for many reasons. Foremost is that people will not be capable any longer of getting along with one another. The lack of trust has many negative outcomes. I’ve seen it happen. The results are not pretty.

    1. Scotty Bush

      If only people would learn to be open, never lie, and work hard. The world would be a better place.

  3. Joe Omerrod

    Just take a look at the United States presidential election. Of all the members running, they are putting forth possible policies that make them appear to be worthy of the votes of the citizens. But what the people are looking for is whether that candidate can be trusted. Some have forgotten that.

    1. Janna Faulkner

      Looks like the US Congress no longer has a bank of trust to draw upon. That is not a good thing. People will start to not trust their congressmen and women. That does not bode well for a fully functioning society.

  4. Eric Coda

    What is the antidote to a failing organization?
    What is the antidote to a bad marriage?
    What is the antidote to being a person on the edge of financial ruin?
    What is the antidote for most things human?
    The answer should always be building trust (and confidence) in others.

  5. Walter H.

    For those of us who have studied and practiced leadership for a long time and have relevant experience, this topic today should come as no surprise. What is particularly good about this blog post today is that the idea of building or rebuilding trust is what is the glue that holds together organizations. This is extraordinarily complex and difficult to do. The bigger the organization, the longer it will take and the harder it will be. Good luck to any leader who takes on that task.

    1. Kenny Foster

      Well said. I too think that “trust” is the apex of great leadership. We tend to think that ancient leaders only ruled by strength. I can tell you that this is part of it but they also built trust among their subordinates. That is what made them great.

  6. apache2

    I”m new to this leadership blog. I’ve been reading it for the past week and discovered the comments section only today; I like it. Each of the readers has made some really good comments that helps me understand the message. Thank you.

      1. apache2

        I”m from New Mexico. The land that some people think is not in the U.S.

    1. Douglas R. Satterfield Post author

      Yes, welcome aboard. Feel free to make requests and make comments that add to the understanding of this difficult thing we call “leadership.”

  7. Dennis Mathes

    As I reflect back on the beginnings of working in my current company, we had problems with trust. Fortunately, a good man came in and started exactly where you are talking about. Without the trust he built that company would have folded and we would have been without jobs.

  8. Bill Sanders, Jr.

    There will always be, for some reason or another, organizations that are not functioning to the level they could be. Some are failing and some are just muddling by. It takes a real leader (not a manager) to fix it. That is, of course, what great leaders do … they fix things that requires vision, hard work, good communications, and the idea that trust must be rebuilt too.

    1. Nick Lighthouse

      Yes, it is a complex and daunting task to correct the problems that have become part of the organization’s culture. The starting point will be to rebuild the trust. Not so obvious to those that are there, but trust has been destroyed and needs to be made whole again.

      1. Yusaf from Texas

        Yes, Nick ….. good one. The organization could be a large company or it could be your school, church, or family.

  9. Army Captain

    Good story on the beginnings of how to bring around a ‘broken’ organization. I’ve seen plenty of them too. It takes a special person in charge to make it right again.

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