Trust: Leadership's Solid Cornerstone

One of my favorite church hymns has a line which has helped to guide my life for many years now. The line goes like this: "Trust and obey, for there is no other way." A simple thought indeed, but it can serve as the basis for great faith if followed...


People like this assume that fear is the only form of power which can be used to whip their staff into shape. They wake up each morning worrying about how the troops will be trying to screw them during the coming day. Countless hours are devoted by people like this creating schemes with which to catch the worthless swine of the department screwing off rather than devoting themselves to the organization.

I guess they have simply come to fear their people rather than trust them. It is this supervisory paranoia that causes some people to begin doing screwy things. These people feel that they need to be everywhere, do everything, and keep an eye on everyone and everything.

These are the people who Douglas McGregor might have labeled Theory X Leaders. If you recall, McGregor wrote about the behavior of human beings in the workplace. He created two competing theories to explain his thoughts. They were Theory X and Theory Y. The assumptions behind his Theory X were that people just did not like work. Because they do not like work, people must be threatened to make them work.

He also wrote that people like to be controlled anyway. Since people do not want to work and want to be controlled, a boss needed to be tough to get work out of those who did not want to work. He offered, under Theory X, that you had to keep a close eye on people or they would try to avoid doing their jobs.

I often thought of his words as I labored in the vineyards of this fire department or that while suffering under the lash of the boss. How could that person doubt my love for the fire service? How could they ever imagine that I wanted to give anything to the department other than my best efforts? This was one part of my life where what I read in the books helped me to understand the quandary within which I was embroiled. This knowledge helped me to make it through the day.

Fortunately McGregor also wrote of the Theory Y style of leadership. In his 1960 text, The Human Side of Enterprise, he wrote about the competing theory which stated that the expenditure of physical and mental effort at work is as natural as the efforts we all expend when we rest, or are involved in some recreational task we enjoy.

He also wrote of how much harder people will labor on behalf of an endeavor if they understand the direction that their organization is taking, what was expected of them, and their actual role in the organization. He spoke of the need to increase the employment of people's intellectual powers on behalf of the organization.

It has long been my belief that we are not involving our people in the ways of creating our workplaces. Whether out of fear or ignorance, far too many fire chiefs fail to reach out to their staffs for new ideas. Far too many chiefs fail to understand that each of their folks is a living, breathing, and thinking resource: a resource which must be nurtured and grown to its fullest value.

Many times we encounter situations where things would have turned out better if the members of the organization had been brought in to assist in the formulation of future plans. However, the negative attitude of the leader, or their fear of the troops, did not allow this to happen. Rather than creating a group which has bought into the organization, you have people who feel abused and neglected.

The boss then has to rant and rave to get the job done. They then use this as the justification for future situations wherein they further ignore the capabilities and opinions of their people. As you might imagine, this whole distasteful situation continues to grow into a downward spiral of ever-increasing speed. Whereas trust fosters loyalty, the lack of trust creates an atmosphere of ever-increasing distrust.

It is at this point that you will begin to find fire chiefs riding around in unmarked cars spying on their staffs. People are not stupid my friends. Regardless of how their leaders treat them, people will persist and persevere. The job will get done. However, they will only do enough work to keep themselves out of trouble. This is a truly sad situation indeed for the organization involved.

How can this situation be turned around? Unfortunately, such changes usually require a change in the leadership. The problem is that many times the subordinate leaders have become so accustomed to operating in this world of fear and distrust that they refuse to believe that any other way of operating exists. When they take over, things do not seem to change much.