Leader, be worthy of my trust

Engraving in the lobby at CIA Headquarters

Engraving in the lobby at CIA Headquarters (source: CIA Headquarters virtual tour)

Earlier this week, in the Project Management section that I teach as part of Duke University’s Technical Communication certificate program, I told my students that trust is the currency of project management. In fact, trust is the currency of all leadership.

You can coerce people using brute force alone. But to truly lead, you have to earn your followers’ trust.

How does a leader earn trust? By showing that he or she is trustworthy. By never pursuing hidden agendas. By being truthful.

Yesterday John Brennan, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, held a press conference in the lobby of CIA headquarters. Engraved in the wall next to him, according to the New York Times, was a verse from the Gospel of John: “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”

I wonder if Brennan thought about that verse of scripture as he stood there, defending his predecessors at the CIA who’d covered up the horrifying truth that its agents — agents of my country, the United States of America — had tortured and abused human beings as part of the “war on terror.”

Maybe those who held power at the time didn’t set out to build an apparatus of torture. Maybe, once the apparatus was in place, they didn’t intend to lie about it. But intentionally or otherwise, through active dissimulation or simply by turning a blind eye, they allowed the torture and the abuse to go on. And they kept the truth from being known.

In so doing, they failed as leaders.

The Times notes that in 2009, before John Brennan was the CIA director, he denounced “enhanced interrogation techniques” (the CIA’s euphemism for torture), saying they went against “our ideals as a nation” and “our values as Americans.”

He was right. The “war on terror” turned some of us into torturers. Their actions ripped the moral fabric of our nation.

Now, if our leaders try to defend what happened or try to deflect the blame, they’ll lose the people’s trust — and with it they’ll lose their ability to lead. And the fabric will rip some more.

As an American, I’m appalled and ashamed by what was revealed this week. I want leaders who’ll say that we’re better than this. Who’ll say that this will never, under any circumstances, happen again.

I want leaders who are worthy of my trust.

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One thought on “Leader, be worthy of my trust

  1. Pingback: Ethel Payne: You should know her name | Leading Technical Communication

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