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Breaking the Trust Barrier
How Leaders Close the Gaps for High Performance
By JV Venable
Berrett-Koehler Publishers
PB, 216 pgs. US$18.95
ISBN: 1-6265-6610-0

Leading from the front

By Steven Martinovich
web posted June 27, 2016

Breaking the Trust BarrierIf someone were brave enough to give it a shot I have a feeling that someone could make mint with an index fund based on the sales of books about leadership. Regardless of the prevailing economic climate there always seems to be a never-ending stream of books that promise to reinvigorate your organization based on some ostensibly sound advice by someone you may or may not have heard of and who has left the business world to work as a consultant/author/motivational speaker in order to spread their gospel. The fund could include old favourites from Sun Tzu and Niccolò Machiavelli as well as more recent contributions by Barry Posner and Steven Covey. The only problem for fund administrators would be figuring out which books and authors out of the torrent to include in the portfolio.

I would argue that JV Venable would probably deserve inclusion in any such fund if only based on his career in America's military. A former commander of the US Air Force's elite Thunderbirds demonstration team, graduate of the Top Gun school for fighter pilots and responsible for the lives of countless people underneath him, Venable has more than enough experience in leadership to qualify as an expert. Although the military is a hierarchal command structure where rank rules and orders are followed, Venable's challenges in getting others to follow were no different than any team leader or executive might face in the private sector. The lessons he learned through decades of service are distilled in Breaking the Trust Barrier: How Leaders Close the Gaps for High Performance.

Given his military experience it's not a surprise that world informs much of his effort. Venable argues that it is a leader's primary task to create the phenomenon of "drafting", a concept familiar to fans of NASCAR. Essentially drafting sees two or more vehicles travelling in close proximity in an effort to reduce drag on all of them, allowing the individual vehicles to travel much faster than they ordinarily would. Nurturing that skill was essential during Venable's time in the Thunderbirds as the F-16s the unit flew travel as close as 18 inches apart at hundreds of miles per hour relatively close to the ground. Venable argues that skill is also necessary in the business world as a leader who develops their team to their maximum potential allows them to enjoy accomplishment and by extension allows that leader to also enjoy success.

So what does Venable prescribe to create that drafting? As hinted at by the title of Breaking the Trust Barrier, he argues that a leader's primary currency with subordinates is trust, loyalty and commitment. To build those elements, Venable writes, a good leader understands his team's passions, need for integrity and confidence in their abilities. They know how to engage both old hands and new hires and they work to empower individuals with carefully selected delegated authority and tasks. It's not an easy process and mistakes can cost a leader some or all of that carefully cultivated currency of trust that they've built up. A team is always watching their leader, Venable argues, that failing to live up to the standards they've set out can be extraordinarily damaging.

One of the more interesting sections of Breaking the Trust Barrier was Venable's argument that people are generally motivated by what he refers to as the five pillars of life: faith, family, friends, health and work. Venable writes that some people develop all five pillars in their lives, while others may only be working on one or two. Understanding what motivates someone, he writes, can provide tremendous insight for a leader to understand how to reach and motivate someone – or at least understand why they cannot. All of us have a driver for our actions and it tends to be one or more of those pillars that Venable has identified.

With thousands of books over thousands of years there, to paraphrase Ecclesiastes, probably isn't too much new under the sun on the topic of leadership. That doesn't mean, however, that new efforts have no value. On the contrary, Venable's Breaking the Trust Barrier shows that its message is still necessary today given how many polls of workplaces continue to show that many leaders continue to fail their primary task of leading. Although at the end of the day it requires a commitment by a leader to put the necessary work in and pay more than lip service to principles of good leadership, they could do far worse than to read Breaking the Trust Barrier and hopefully absorb the stories, lessons and insight that JV Venable learned and now offers.

Steve Martinovich is the founder and editor of Enter Stage Right. ESR

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