“The most important task of an organization’s leader is to anticipate crisis. Perhaps not to avert it, but to anticipate it. To wait until crisis hits is abdication. One has to make the organization capable of anticipating the storm, weathering it, and in fact, being ahead of it. You cannot prevent a major catastrophe, but you can build an organization that is battle-ready, that has high morale, that knows how to behave, that trusts itself and where people trust one another. In military training, the first rule is to instill soldiers with trust in their officers, because without trust they won’t fight.”
—Peter F. Drucker
Even in the most structured, command-and-control environments, like the military, those in the field are the ones who have to carry out the activities of the organization. They are called on to make many key decisions—often without the benefit of a detailed blueprint. Without trust in the leadership, soldiers or workers cannot be expected to stay and fight on.
One of my favorite examples of how trust played a significant role in a leader’s success was withAbraham Lincoln during the Civil War. His predecessor, James Buchanan, was basically in denial about the eventuality of war. Thus, there was very little preparation for combat in the North. The Confederacy, on the other hand, had prepared for quite sometime before war erupted. The result: Even though the North had superior forces and resources, the South was able to fight off the North more effectively than most expected.
The South also had a cadre of very well trained generals like Robert E. Lee, Joseph Johnston and Stonewall Jackson, who worked hard to gain the trust of their troops, and they were able to prolong the war and nearly triumph.
President Lincoln was very fortunate to eventually be able to lean on the skills and strategies of his own military leaders, like Ulysses S. Grant, as well as on his ability to earn and keep the trust of the people of the Union. He was known as “Honest Abe” for a reason, and his trustworthiness greatly enhanced his ability to gain support for the war and ultimately secure the victory. Without the trust that Northerners had in Lincoln, we’d possibly be two or even three countries today.