Psychology Today writer Michael D. Matthews featured the School’s Center for Leadership and Character Director Pat Sweeney’s leadership research in his recent story about trust being essential to effective leadership.
An especially intriguing field study of trust was conducted by military psychologist Patrick J. Sweeney. Sweeney, a U.S. Army colonel, was in graduate school pursuing his doctorate in social psychology at the time the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003. Although Sweeney was slated for assignment to West Point to teach psychology and leadership upon completion of his doctoral studies, General David Petraeus asked him to suspend his graduate studies and assist in the initial military operations to take Baghdad in March of 2003. In conjunction with this request, Sweeney quickly designed a study that allowed him to conduct research on trust among real soldiers engaged in real combat. I suspect that the University of North Carolina, where Sweeney obtained his doctorate in social psychology, had never seen a dissertation of this sort!
Sweeney devised a set of surveys and administered them to officers, non-commissioned officers, and enlisted soldiers during the fight for Baghdad. It is an understatement to say that this methodology had very high external validity! Following his stint in the war, Sweeney returned to his graduate studies, spent several months analyzing the data he had collected in Iraq, and successfully completed and defended his dissertation.
The results of Sweeney’s research were enlightening. He found three factors central to soldiers trusting their leaders. Sweeney calls these factors the “3 C’s” of trust: Competence, character, and caring. First and foremost, to be trusted, leaders must be viewed by their soldiers as competent. They had to know their jobs, and communicate clearly to their subordinates that they possessed the knowledge and skills needed to get the job done. Incompetence, in this setting, could result in unnecessary deaths or injury to soldiers.
Read the full story at Psychology Today.