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Professional growth through service

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE La. - -- Retired Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt, former 12th Air Force commander, once told me, "Your rank and position in the Air Force entitles you to nothing." He went on to say; "No one should be asking what they can do for the boss. The boss should be asking - what can I do for you."

His inspirational leadership left an indelible mark on my character. I have reflected often on our mentoring sessions and speeches he delivered at more than 50 venues in less than a year's time. The experience of working directly for this well-respected senior leader has led me to an understanding about service that transcends mere altruism.

I believe that as we grow professionally, as we are rewarded for past performance and promoted for demonstrated potential, we are indebted to our subordinates. As we are promoted and given more responsibility we should more closely resemble a servant than a master. After all, we could never have been promoted without our subordinate leaders and followers. I believe unit success belongs to subordinates and failure belongs to the leader.

Company grade officers and junior enlisted are masters of a small aspect or cross-section of their specialties. However, as we continue to rise through the ranks, our expertise thins and we are increasingly dependent on others to give us the expertise we are no longer masters of. This thinning process happens of necessity due to our expanding managerial, leadership and command responsibilities.

The scope of mission we are responsible for grows, therefore decreasing time spent on functional expertise.

We are more and more "served" by those below us to help us make timely and accurate decisions. So what is the senior leader's role as he is being served? He must organize the unit in a way that optimizes standard operating procedures, tactics, techniques and procedures, operating instructions, policies and other organizational processes. This assumes existing SOPs, TTPs, and OIs are current and valid; otherwise, they must be addressed and modified if [re]organizing structurally. The senior leader must also ensure his charges have the requisite training and equipment to allow them to focus on the mission at hand. Training and equipment needs must also be revalidated.

Leaders will gain valuable insight into the inner workings of their unit during this revalidation. Processes, training, equipment, and facilities are useless without the people to execute and utilize them effectively to accomplish the mission. Know the mission, give your vision, organize, train, equip, and grow your people - that is servant leadership!

Having personal goals and desires is not a sin, nor are they necessarily obstacles to accomplishing the mission. Leaders and subordinates must find ways to balance personal desires with organizational objectives. "Service before self" means the former always wins out where the latter threatens the mission. It is our duty to understand and follow the rules or change them through accepted legal practices when they no longer make sense due to a change in technology or the threat environment.

I have been responsible for sending troops in harm's way, "outside the wire," in the past and may be called on to do so again. I cannot do this with a clean conscience if I do not properly organize, train, and equip them. However, this is not enough. I must go further to ensure their spiritual, emotional, and family's needs are met in all phases deployment. I sincerely care for Airmen and their families and with my own family's help have and will continue to be concerned for their welfare and serve them.

I do not give up and I have little patience for those who do. I make it a practice to grow rising leaders and cannot afford their failure. Thus, with that in mind, I task them appropriately, understanding their limitations, strengths, and weaknesses, but ensure I challenge them through growth rather than throw them a "softball." I believe that physical fitness goes a long way towards dealing with stress that leads to emotional instability, and workplace frustration.

Physical fitness leads to a mental toughness, and clarity of mind that allows us to work through life's daily stresses. This is paramount for military service. Meditation, yoga, singing, dancing, cycling, Bible studies, and volunteering in community service projects are all forms of physical, spiritual, and emotional fitness which I support and encourage and which will help us embrace the concept of servant leadership. Ultimately, I must be willing to lay down my life in the service of my country before placing others in harm's way. How do you define service? Are you entitled to it or do you give it freely for nothing in return? The bottom line is that service is given freely without the expectation of return, because it's the right thing to do and not for quid pro quo.