Sounds like an innocent question, right? Not when it’s your first summer at West Point and the person asking is your Squad Leader. That simple question is code for: “Summarize for me an article from the front page of today’s New York Times.”
My response should have started something like, “Sir, today in the New York Times it was reported that…” Only one problem—I hadn’t read the paper that morning. A myriad of excuses flashed through my mind—Physical Training ran late, no one else has read the paper, We didn’t have enough time—but no upperclassman wanted excuses. There was only one appropriate response.
“Sir, I do not know.”
Here it comes, I thought. I prepared for the requisite shellacking.
But it never came. Instead of fury I found something quite different in Cadet Sarabia’s eyes that morning: disappointment.
As he moved on, I was left to deal with my own lack, silently soaking up his disappointment.
What I discovered during those few minutes amazed me. I felt I had let him down. I felt an intense desire to redouble my efforts, to not mess up again, to do whatever it took. I was surprised by what he had created in me: For the first time that summer I wanted to live up to someone’s belief in me, not just avoid punishment.
For weeks, undetected by me, John Sarabia had been sowing the seeds of trust. In that moment, he reaped the harvest. He had gained something from me that all the rules and regulations, all the pressure and stress couldn’t pry out of me: My Trust. I knew he believed in me. I knew he was on my side.
John had moved me from being merely compliant to being truly committed. And he did it by earning my trust.
How are you earning the trust of those you lead? How have leaders earned your trust in the past?