I get a lot of opportunity to talk about leadership at work. The point of the talk varies many of the times, but regardless of the purpose I always bring up one story from my life that demonstrates how great leaders instill trust in everyone around them. As written here before, trust is the grease that makes the wheels of leadership turn at rates we can’t even imagine.
When I transitioned from my favorite job in the Air Force—working as a Russian interpreter and arms control inspector with my two coauthors—to become an officer, Air Force policy required me to go through Officer Training School. OTS was a four month, all expenses paid get-away to lovely Mobile, AL. Luckily, I went over the winter so I didn’t have to deal with Alabama heat or peak season for the vaunted fire ant. However, I did have to deal with 22-year old, just out of college, upperclassmen who happened to have 2 months seniority on me as a trainee. As a ten plus year veteran who had worked international arms control treaties, real world offensive air operations and traveled to places these kids hadn’t even heard of before, it took a lot of patience and commiseration with fellow prior enlisted trainees to get through the silliness.
One of my fellow commiserators, was a wise, thoughtful and mature former Master Sergeant named Rashid Muhammad. He and I were in sister flights so we spent a lot of time in the same hallway with the same young punk yelling about “national security” and “Air Force core values” and how much we all had yet to learn about these things. Dali couldn’t have painted a more surreal picture. Anyway, this shared experience led to a strong and solid friendship even though we only spent four months together.
Fast forward five years. I’m sitting in my office overlooking the runway on Andersen AFB, Guam when I get a phone call from a number I don’t recognize. I answer and hear Rashid’s voice on the other end of the line. We both smile and start catching up on the past five years sharing family progress and work adventures. Eventually, Rashid said he needed to ask me a question. I said I’m all ears and then he asked me if I wanted his job. Of course, I asked him what his job was and he said he couldn’t tell me because it was a classified position in an organization that didn’t exist. Without hesitation, I told Rashid I would take the job. This story shocks most of my colleagues at work because they can’t imagine taking a job sight unseen, questions unasked, interview ungiven. The trust Rashid and I built through our shared experience and the faith he expressed in me through the offer gave me the confidence to say yes without hesitation. That trust and faith in friends is an exceptional commodity and I can say I’m fortunate to have it in many of my relationships with family and friends. Who could ask for more?