An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.


Fostering trust through accountability and curiosity

  • Published
  • By Col. Michael Higgins
  • 60th Medical Group

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – We are fiercely underway in 2018 as Travis Air Force Base, California, continues to remain engaged throughout the world, and our people continue to impress.  January is championship season as we rally around our favorite sports teams and look forward to the Winter Olympics.

 A key component of any championship team is the inherent trust each person must have for one another.  Each individual must perform at their highest level and be accountable for that performance.  High-performing and highly reliable teams develop a trust and reliance on each other well beyond just the performance of duties.  Such trust does not come easy and cultivating it is not for the faint of heart.  One key ingredient in earning trust involves accountability. 

 Strangely, social scientists have known for years that accountability is one of the most difficult concepts and behaviors for people and teams to master.  In fact, in some studies when people witness a stranger, peer, subordinate or leader not performing as expected, we tend to ignore it initially over 90 percent of the time.

 Furthermore, when we finally begin to hold others accountable, we tend to be accusatory, judgmental, emotional and equate punishment with accountability.  High-performing people and teams, however, foster trust through accountability differently by engaging others with respect, curiosity and a focus on the performance. 

 When you are done with an accountability discussion, can you ensure that the relationship is stronger rather than threatened?  Are you aware of how you perceive others and how your own insecurities limit you in these situations? 

 It takes courage, insight, some skill and trust on both parties. It is a mutual commitment to each other and the team. On the athletic field, it is commonplace to see players motivating one another, reviewing plans for success and even calling one another out when gaps in performance are noted.  Why do we lose that when the stakes are higher?  For those interested, there are several resources that aim to help us including, “Crucial Accountability,” the second book in a great series by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler. 

 We embrace incredibly difficult challenges each and every day both here and throughout the world. Our mutual success depends on all of us to galvanize a culture fueled by respect, engaged leadership and accountability.  Regardless of rank or position, we must be able to trust each other to exercise a questioning attitude, demonstrate respect for people, engage when expectations are not met and be receptive when a fellow hero is holding us accountable. 

 Our profession is not a game–risks are high and lives are at stake.  The demand for exceptional performance is not just a goal, but a requirement.  We must trust one another to be accountable.  Together, we aim to crush our nation’s enemies and take care of our friends in the process.   Thank you, Team Travis. We are off to an incredible start in 2018 and I remain inspired.  Stay relentless, make great decisions and continue to treat others like heroes deserve.  No bounds.