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Leaders: Adapt or weaken

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- As a commander, every day I speak to people about their work, their lives, what's good and what's not so good. Recently, with all the talk surrounding budget cuts and doing more with less, one thing is clear, we need to adapt or accept weakening of our leadership effectiveness.

Time and time again I hear concerns from leaders [at all levels] about "them." You know who "them" are. It's the "they" who can't seem to get it together, the "they" who aren't cutting the mustard or the "they" who are simply riding out their time, doing the minimum until retirement. I'm asked if leaders should reduce "their" workload; expect less from "them?"

Even though God hasn't endowed me with the ability to see into the future, I can say with certainty that our mission isn't going to get easier and our resources aren't going to get more plentiful.

So, as leaders, what do we do? Perhaps we ought to look at leadership style and see where adaptations can be made ... maybe it's not always "them" who need to initiate change. Without adapting, leader-effectiveness weakens and diminishes.

I suggest three things we can do.

First, recognize the signs of stress in your Airmen and help them prioritize their work. If your Airmen are impatient or abrasive when they are usually calm and cordial, then they are likely stressed in some way and need help. In my last job, I worked in the Air Force engine room. I was among many other action officers working on the Air Force's future budget/program. In the engine room, there were times we worked so hard that the days and nights ran together. In the opposite extreme, there were times when we had only 15 minutes to get an answer to the Chief [of Staff of the Air Force].

During one budget cycle, I remember my boss taking our proposed solution to a complex problem and sending it up the chain. Two hours later it was on Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network. It was cool, but very stressful. During my tour in the engine room, never once did my leadership say, "What can I take off your plate?"

They would continuously review, and sometimes reset, our priorities and we never let them down. What's the point? Stress is a consequence of high-standards. As leaders, we can't lower our standards or expect less from our Airmen. We can do this by reviewing and assessing mission priorities and focusing Airmen's energy on the highest priorities ... and they, too, won't let us down.

Second, don't coddle your Airmen. Not only is it insulting, but they expect more from you. Give them the tools they need for success, hold everyone accountable (including yourself) and get out of their way. They'll surprise you with their innovativeness. One of the reasons I sleep well at night is that I assume everyone works just as hard as I do and everyone strives for excellence in mission accomplishment. Some say I'm naïve, however, this simple but liberating assumption helps me assume the best in people and helps me focus power and light where it's most needed. As leaders, we need to ensure our Airmen have the right tools.

I know that this sounds great ... where's the practical advice, right? Well, I challenge Team Whiteman to read and study the book, Getting Things Done by David Allen. You'll find practical examples about staying organized and achieving extraordinary results in your personal productivity.

Finally, say less and do more. At church we discussed Titus 2:7 which basically says that one should be self-aware and be a good example to others. This advice is as true now as it was then. A clear example of this is volunteerism. Let's not just talk about the importance of volunteering ... volunteer. Let's not just talk about the importance of participating in group intramural sports ... participate (if you can't play, then participate by cheering them on). Let's not give lip service to the importance of physical training ... max it! There's no magic rank that gives us the right to "stop doing those things anymore." Let's not just talk about the importance of balance in our life ... live it; mind-body-soul, worship-family-career. We are adept and talented creatures, we can do this.

I challenge all Airmen to answer honestly the question, "What value do I bring to my; place of worship, home, job, team, etc?"

All of us need to adapt and change. Sometimes it's not only "them" who have to change. Sometimes the change should start with the leader. Let's get to work!