3 principles to live by: Faith, trust and loyalty

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Norm Thierolf
  • 80th Flying Training Wing Superintendent
There are all kinds of books, lectures, theories and opinions on leadership and how to be successful, and here is another one.

Seriously though, I don't know if it is because I grew up in a small farm community or what, but I've never been one for deep, complex theories on these topics. To me, keeping it simple and basic always worked best. So with that in mind, I've found keeping to these three basic ideas and premises have helped me out during my career. 

When it comes to success and leadership, I'm not talking about spiritual or religious faith. I'm talking about having faith in the system. You have to have faith in the system, faith in your leadership, faith in your peers and faith in your people.

Faith in the system is believing that the system is fair, designed to help all of us out, and understanding that the "system" can't accommodate everyone's personal desires.
So what is the system? There are numerous systems in the Air Force such as Enlisted Performance Reports, decorations, assignments, promotion, supervisory chain and numerous other special actions. You have to have faith that the Air Force will take care of you and treat you right. If you do what is expected of you, and more specifically if you exceed what is expected of you, you will be taken care of.

I haven't always gotten exactly what I wanted when it comes to assignments and all, but I have never felt cheated or that the Air Force "owed" me anything. 

Trust ties into having faith in the system, but I like to think of trust on a more personal basis. Commanders, leaders and supervisors have to earn and keep the trust of the people they serve with - superiors and subordinates. If the people you work with don't trust you, your decisions, your ethics or your "agenda," then they cannot work effectively for or with you.

But how do you get and keep that trust? I would say that when you move into a new situation, with new personnel, all of us are very trusting. We believe the people we work for and with are trustworthy people until they prove otherwise.

When I would take over a new duty section, I would tell the people that I supervised that they had my trust from day one. I trusted them to do the right thing, do what was expected, be responsible and get things done. They knew their responsibilities and I trusted that they would do what they needed to do to meet those responsibilities.

I also told them that I hoped that I had their trust and would continue to keep that trust. I told them that anytime they had an issue that they needed to discuss with me, it would stay with me. It wouldn't be the topic of discussion at the water cooler, and that any discussion of their issue outside of that venue they would know about. I let them know that if it were something of a grave nature that I had to discuss with the first sergeant, commander or a base agency, that I was compelled as a leader and supervisor to do that. But in most of those cases they would know that before I took the issue outside of my office. 

You have to be loyal to your boss and your people. If your loyalty lies somewhere other than these people, you will have problems.

I'm not talking about blind loyalty to your boss because he or she is your boss. I've seen officers and enlisted who had this kind of blind loyalty to their boss or commander because they didn't want to upset him or her. As Airmen we all owe it to our bosses and commanders to provide them feedback, even when it may not make them happy. Bad news doesn't travel well ... lack of bad news is even worse. It can create a chaotic situation.

The other side to that is that you have to support your boss's or commander's decisions and directions. You can go behind closed doors and provide them with feedback and alternative ideas or solutions, but when the decision is made you need to be on board to support that decision. If you can't support it you need to tell them that, but don't go out and bad mouth the decision to others or question the decision. This breaks down the basic structure of good order and discipline in a military organization.
You must also be loyal to your people. Loyalty to them doesn't mean you turn a blind eye to their mistakes either. In fact, when they make a mistake you need to be the one there to correct them and help them grow personally and professionally ... that is being loyal to them. Loyalty to them means you take care of them, you look out for them, you look out for their best interests, and probably most importantly you stand up for them and protect them. If you allow your people to be abused, you are not being loyal to them.

So remember these three simple words ... faith, trust and loyalty. They are all interrelated and are not complex. Even a simple country boy like me can understand them.