Trust Matters

We talk a lot about leadership and training on this platform … but if there’s one element that underwrites your ability to both lead and train, it’s trust. Teammates can’t rely on each other without it. Trainees can’t rely on a trainer’s advice and counsel. Leaders ‘manage’ out of fear for their own status instead of focusing on their team’s development. Trust matters in every environment, as I was reminded this morning watching a tree removal team take down three adult trees–two from my front yard and one out back–in less than two hours.

Two of these trees died before we moved in. The one we knew of sat next to the driveway, the other looked healthy from afar only to deposit several dead branches on our neighbor’s backyard during a windstorm. The third was a sad-looking evergreen out front–at one time a great tree to decorate with Christmas lights, but now missing several branches and boasting needles looking sickly. The plan was to remove all three and replace the evergreen come spring. It took almost three months from first call to the team’s scheduled date, a timeline exacerbated by recent severe storms in our area in the last few weeks. The woman answering the phone was helpful every time and quickly demonstrated what working with a family-owned business closely tied with the community can be like. Still, we hadn’t booked this kind of work before so didn’t know what to expect short of a full day’s worth of work.

At 7:45am two large trucks park outside our house, bumpers inches from each other while each vehicle avoided blocking adjacent driveways. Promptly at 8:00, four gentlemen disembarked and began situating the equipment. I left our front room for a cup of coffee and to review email; when I returned, the evergreen’s branches and trunk were piled neatly at the end of the driveway. It couldn’t have been more than 15 minutes! The first photo shows an all-purpose grapple (operator out of view above the frame) preparing to lift another pile of branches into the collection truck. What I missed documenting after taking the picture was the operator using the grappleful of branches as a broom, brushing loose sticks and dust out of the street and back toward the pile. As the grapple swung around, cars drove past into the morning’s traffic and one of the team members walked up to finish the job with a leaf-blower. I realized at that moment how much trust these four must have in each other to walk within inches of a powerful machine surely heavy and strong enough to do serious damage to a human body upon impact.

Having felled both the evergreen and dead cherry tree out front, the team to the final target out back. An hour into the whole job, they were taking down the white pine in segments. One man had climbed the trunk and was removing each piece, after the branches had been cleared, then dropping it onto the ground below. Two others collected debris to pass over the fence to the fourth team member ferrying everything to the truck. Their movements were perfectly choreographed while we felt each ‘thud’ of tree hunks falling from the sky. The team moved with ease through the yard and around this dead tree, under a chainsaw and newly-cut pieces of wood heavy enough to kill should they strike someone in the head. Amazing. Oh, and the whole thing was done by 9:45. Less than two hours, three trees cut down and cleared from our property. Onto several more houses in a day that barely crested 40 degrees and started with a couple inches of snow on the ground.

There are many leadership books … courses … programs … models … out there in the world, each one attributing “effective” leadership to different sets of factors. But I have to go on the record and tell you, from my standpoint, the single most important element to effective leadership in any environment is TRUST. The team from Russell Tree Experts proved it. No matter how well, and for how long, each person was taught the company’s philosophy and values or was trained in the skills necessary to cleanly, safely remove large trees from crowded spaces, nothing else matters when pieces of tree trunk go flying–other than the ability to trust one another in the moment. Regardless of how this company prepares its teams to work every day, it’s clear they value trust as essential to their operation.

I’m an avid reader and proponent of formal education (as you’ve heard and/or gathered by now). But no matter how well-told a story, nothing beats watching a brilliant lesson unfold before your own eyes. Trust proved essential to us in the nuclear operations community and continues to be vital today in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries as hospitals fight to keep up with COVID-19 and businesses race to bring vaccines to the public. Nothing happens without some level of trust amongst us. Which is a good thing, I think, and an important reminder that much of what we do and how we live requires trust between people. Anything less and the structures upon which we rely simply collapse.

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