The Power of Trust

By on July 8, 2014
Experienced Industrial Assembly Worker

Trust me, they can fly…

More than a couple of years ago, I was in the cockpit of an Air Force T–34, revving up the engine at the end of the runway on an almost deserted airfield just outside of Dexter, Missouri. My flight instructor, an older pilot who had flown fighters in WWII, was seated behind me. I was getting ready to take off when he called out, “Lt. Friesen, wait a minute, I’ve got to get out of the plane to adjust my parachute.” A couple of seconds later, he called out in a very loud voice, “Close the cockpit and take off.” I followed his orders. It was only after I was in the air that I looked back and realized that Pete, my flight instructor, wasn’t in the plane. I was on my own! I had soloed!

Before being assigned to Pete, I’d fallen behind my classmates in flight training. After spending a couple of weeks in the base hospital with a nasty case of infected sinuses, I’d begun to doubt that I could make it through Air Force flight training.

But Pete knew otherwise. And he knew that there was only one way for me to overcome my doubts about my ability to become an Air Force pilot. He knew that what it would take was “Close the cockpit and take off.” He knew that once I was in the air on my own that the doubts I had felt would be swept aside by the exhilaration of the moment. And Pete was right. His trust had overcome my doubts. Later, as an Air Force pilot I often thought about the power of Pete’s trust.

Happy Kid Soloing With Toy AirplaneAs a Lean consultant I’ve seen variations of the “story of Pete’ played out on the manufacturing floor over and over again. I’ve seen front line employees whose knowledge and creativity is being wasted because they don’t believe they ‘can solo.’ About a year ago, I asked a young line worker if she had any ideas about how to improve her work area. She replied, “I wouldn’t know anything about that. You should ask my supervisor.” I replied, “With all due respect to your supervisor you know better than anyone else how to make this area more productive because you do the work.” She smiled at me. Clearly her supervisor had never said to her, “Close the cockpit and take off.” He should have.

I’ve also seen line supervisors who, like Pete, understand the power of trust. The result? A highly engaged group of workers, confident in their ability to improve the way their work is done; workers like Jim Leftridge at Rug Doctor who challenged the way work was done in his area and, with one idea, decreased the amount of time it took to unload trucks bringing in cardboard from 90 minutes to 20.

In fact, it is the power of trust that is at the very heart of Lean manufacturing. It’s what makes Lean work. Understanding the power of trust isn’t something new. Early in the past century, Henry Ford observed:

“One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.”

My flight instructor, Pete, understood as did Henry Ford that the power of trust can sweep away the fear and doubt that prevent us from doing what we can, in fact, do.

We have Lean training and consulting services that will help your supervisors develop confidence-building techniques like those used by Pete and Henry Ford. Finding out that “you can do what you were afraid you couldn’t do” is a real “Wow!” experience. It’s one you want all of your employees to have because when they do, stand aside, and let the process improvements flow.

I’d like to have the opportunity to meet with you and talk about how to unleash the power of trust in your company. You can reach me anytime at 314-303-0612. Let’s talk. Trust me, your employees can fly.

About George Friesen

George Friesen serves as Business Practice Leader - Lean Manufacturing for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College. He has led the College's Lean business practice area since 2000. Prior to joining the College, George worked for Maritz Performance Improvement Company. Over the past 35 years, he has served a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, specializing during the past eleven years in Lean Manufacturing, focusing especially on the 5S System, Lean leadership and thinking processes, Value Stream Mapping, and Lean team building. George is a graduate of Washington University (AB), Webster University (MA), and United States Air Force Flight Training.

One Comment

  1. Terry Foushee

    July 21, 2014 at 8:04 am

    Another great article. I enjoyed both Barry’s and yours as they really hit the mark.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login