Academic journal article Military Review

It's Not about Trust; It's about Thinking and Judgment

Academic journal article Military Review

It's Not about Trust; It's about Thinking and Judgment

Article excerpt

There has been a great deal of talk about trust and trust development recently in and around the military. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has made it one of his priorities for the joint force. (1) The issue of trust--or breach of trust--has surfaced because over the past decade or so, there have been numerous breaches throughout the force (to include flag-level officers), most notably with regard to sexual misconduct. Lying and cheating, along with other failures of service members of all ranks to conform to an acceptable standard of professional behavior, have also dominated the press and helped to weaken the trust our nation has in its armed forces. The Army professes that trust is the bedrock of the profession. (2) It identifies it as--

* Trust between soldiers

* Trust between soldiers and their leaders

* Trust between soldiers their families and the Army

* Trust between the Army and the American people

In response to this new focus on trust, we will attempt to investigate and dissect what trust really means and what it looks like in practical and real terms. More importantly, we will propose that the training, educational, and developmental focus should not be on trust; it should instead be continuously focused on self-awareness, critical thinking, and judgment (or reasoning).


Soldiers gain trust by exhibiting high levels of competence and character.

Trust in competence. In day-to-day activities, soldiers primarily elicit competence-trust by being proficient in their military occupational duties-pilots, mechanics, clerks, snipers, divers, ammunition specialists, cooks, and medics are just a few examples.

Gaps or weaknesses in competence are relatively easy to see and can normally be remedied by extra training or practice. For example, if Spc. Smith, a mechanic, does not know how to fix a transmission, this is a competency gap. Smith's supervisor, Staff Sgt. Jones, can easily identify Smith's shortcoming and develop a training plan to remedy the deficiency.

Smith trusts that Jones will not have him fix a transmission until Smith can safely and properly complete the task. Unit leadership trusts that Jones will apply his expert knowledge and judgment (either conscious or unconscious) of Smith's abilities and train his subordinate accordingly. In this example, Jones demonstrates that competence-trust is the result of expert knowledge, critical thinking, and reasoning.

Trust in character. Issues of trust become much more complex when concerning character. Thinking, judging, and reasoning become even more necessary and discerning as they relate to character-trust.

Rightly or wrongly, character can be seen as being very malleable and situational. Person X can be trusted in one situation or context but might not be trusted in another. This idea will make many uncomfortable because the military is a profession, has a professional ethic, and ideally should not have leaders whose character is malleable, or situational, or susceptible to working outside of the accepted professional norm or ethic.

True enough, but humans are humans-each is flawed and weak in certain areas.

History is rife with examples where common human weaknesses are exposed by sex, money, power, and alcohol or drugs. Those in the military are not immune from these temptations, but increasing our awareness (consciousness) of how we view these temptations and how we judge them will result in more thinking and judgment--which can only help to mitigate their effects.

The aforementioned temptations often result in what many would characterize as moral or ethical character flaws. However, how people both in and out of an organization view these flaws is a mixed bag-even in professions like the military. For many, lying about and having affairs are seen as private matters that have no effect on one's professional behavior or competence-trust. …

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