By David Collins
50th Logisitics Readiness Flight director
SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Throughout my active duty and civil service career, I’ve sat through numerous classes on leadership beginning as a young senior Airman, to required professional military education classes as a junior and senior non-commissioned officer and finally as a civilian.
Throughout the years, there is one quote which has resonated with me by Sir Winston Churchill when describing leadership, “To every man there comes in his lifetime that special moment when he is figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered that chance to do a very special thing, unique to him and fitted to his talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds him unprepared or unqualified for that which would be his finest hour.” Obviously stated in gender specific terms back in those days — nonetheless equally important to our women leaders of today.
Excerpts of this quote have been used in motion pictures such as Apollo 13, when NASA Flight Director, Gene Kranz, portrayed by actor Ed Harris, responds to two NASA directors when faced with a possible disaster of the return of the command module to earth stating “with all due respect sir, I believe this is going to be our finest hour.”
The training, familiarization of the equipment and processes, intimately knowing his mission control team, the command module crew, family and friends, ability to overcome emergent issues and stand in the face of adversity, reflected the highest level of leadership not only to the mission control team, but the whole world — failure was not an option.
I believe the following, which has transformed over the years, is similar in nature:
Junior enlisted members in non-supervisory positions should know their job and take care of themselves.
What do I mean by this? Simply learn as much as you can about your job, ask questions, read all applicable guidance and operating instructions so you can execute your assigned mission and eagerly pursue your upgrade training.
As for taking care of yourself, you know yourself better than anyone else and as a professional you have an obligation to take care of yourself and ask for help when needed. You should maintain a healthy lifestyle, worship as you see fit, properly manage your finances, take care of your family and so on.
Along with this, let your supervisor or leadership know when you’re having a problem and need help. You hear this more and more today, but as with many, I grew up during a period when reaching out for assistance meant you were weak or you would be labeled unfit for military service. It’s not like that today, cultural shifts and knowledge-based facts have taught us to reach out for help when needed, get help early while the issues are easier to manage.
Noncommissioned officers in supervisory positions should follow the first two rules as well, but at a more seasoned level. Obviously, you should have keen knowledge of the profession of arms and be leading by example.
You should also be actively fulfilling your upgrade training and pursuing an advanced degree. The added measure for the NCO corps is taking care of your Airmen. Not only will you be leading by example, but you’ll have a vested interest in your Airmen’s lives, both personal and professional. You should know the status of their training, who their friends and family are, what their interests are and any problems they may be confronting.
Sage advice for all good wingmen, but this is where developing good time management begins, in other words, personal comforts become secondary to ensuring yourself and your personnel are fit to meet the demands of your chosen profession and the Air Force mission.
For senior noncommissioned officers, officers and senior civilians, you need to ensure an additional measure of taking care of your senior leadership’s agenda. This doesn’t mean you’re skipping over your immediate boss’s concerns, what it’s saying is you’re focused tactically and strategically — you see the bigger picture all the way to our commander-in-chief.
We are leaders 24/7 and must perform like it. You won’t always agree with your boss’s decisions as your subordinates won’t always agree with yours, but in the end as leaders we must support the decisions of our leaders. We must follow the orders of those appointed over us and convey them as our own, so long as those orders are not illegal, unethical or immoral.
While this leadership philosophy is no surprise, it is clearly understood at all levels, easy to remember, realistic to implement and has proven effective over my career — let it be effective to your career, let it be your finest hour!