Trust But Verify

“Trust but verify” is perhaps the most famous phrase uttered by our ex-president Ronald Reagan.  Several years ago, at a driver training, I mentioned that we would be implementing our 40th President’s advice with regard to one of our procedures.

This comment was very offensive to one of our senior drivers. She believed that “trust but verify” meant don’t completely trust. And trust, if it isn’t complete, isn’t really trust.

Regardless of how you feel about President Reagan, a trust but verify policy works for more than nuclear arms reduction agreements. Verifying:

  • Tells your people that you’re engaged (and care).
  • Helps you to fulfill your responsibilities to your district and your customers.
  • Supports you in fulfilling your responsibilities to the taxpayer.

There’s an old Slovenian proverb – “Pray for a good harvest but keep on hoeing.” Wise ancient Eastern Europeans knew that it was folly to manage by hope.  They only stopped hoeing when they verified the harvest. In education, volumes have been written about checking for understanding. Successful teachers verify that their lessons are learned.

Verifying is not distrusting. Rather, it assures that what we thought we asked staff to do, they heard and executed. It also ensures that our instruction actually works as intended. When I’m out in the field “verifying” I’m also checking to see if we gave the correct instructions. Maybe circumstance dictates that the training needs to be “tweaked” to maximize our team’s performance. If I don’t verify I’ll probably never know when and where we’re missing the mark.

So, YES I’ll trust but verify. To do anything else would be irresponsible.

Postscript – It took a few years but the driver came around to respect and even like this approach to management. She overcame her fear of oversight and learned to appreciate our consistent efforts to improve.

Posted on November 17, 2012, in Best Practices, Quotes and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Many people do not know the origin of the phrase “Aye aye, sir”. The first “Aye” means the person receiving the order has heard and understood the order. The second “Aye” is the statement that they will obey the order. That phrase keeps coming to mind as I make my rounds and hear stories of things happening at various school districts. Have fun in China. And don’t get on the wrong train like my old packaging buddy did.

  2. Totally agree. How could we be responsible leaders if we failed to make sure what we asked is what was done. To say “Well I told him to do that.” is not acceptable and has not been for many many moons.

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