BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. --
How well are you living up to your responsibility? Regardless of your rank or position, you have immense responsibilities resting on your shoulders. We have hundreds of them spelled out in Air Force instructions and handbooks that we’re expected to carry out every day. In addition to those, we also have just as many, if not more, to worry about in our personal lives. However, there’s one responsibility that’s not specifically required in any instruction or handbook even though it’s essential to fulfilling all of your other responsibilities. The good news is, it’s enjoyable, meaningful, and the results will enrich your life and the lives of many others!
There’s a theory known as Occam’s razor which tells us “the simple answer is usually the right answer.” Well, it doesn’t get any simpler than this… we all have a responsibility to get to know our Airmen on a personal level. Regardless of who you are or where you work, this applies to you. Taking the time to learn about other people helps build relationships and makes each member of our team feel valued. You will never go wrong investing in other people and it’s worth every ounce of effort you put into it. You will learn some amazing things about the people you cross paths with if you just put forth the effort to get to know them. You don’t need a fireside chat, a watercooler, or any other fancy reason or event to strike up a conversation with the people you interact with throughout your day. All you need is a little bit of curiosity, a little bit of compassion, and just a little bit of time to find out who they are, where they come from, and what they value. If you’re still not convinced, keep in mind, people are motivated for their reasons, not yours.
Some of the most well-known and respected leaders in history are renowned for their ability to connect with people on a personal level. Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King Jr., Bill Clinton, and Colin Powell are just a few that possessed a passion to listen and understand the people they led or interacted with. Here’s the lesson their example teaches us: if you don’t care enough about people to learn who they are and what fuels them, you’ll never be an Affective leader. You might be Effective but, you’ll probably never become affective. If people feel like they don’t know you and you don’t know them, they’re not likely to trust you. You can still command or direct them and they will follow orders, but your ability to really connect with them will pale in comparison to someone who takes the time to get to know them and appreciate them. The theory of “Dunbar’s Number” says, you can only maintain about 150 meaningful personal connections at one time. That shouldn’t keep us from challenging that theory every day. Getting to know as many people as we can is also a vital part to completing our Air Force mission. Former Chief of Staff, General Ronald Fogleman said “…no matter how good the technology, or how shiny the equipment, its people-to-people relations that get things done”.
If you’ve ever read any book on leadership or attended any level of professional military education, you know this is true. Many of us have a hard time opening up and letting people in, and that’s okay… we just have to keep working at it. I enjoy learning about people and what motivates and inspires them. Here are a few interesting facts about some of the Airmen that I’ve worked with over the last few years. No names or affiliations are provided.
One Airmen at a previous base came from a Gold Star family. His brother had been killed in Iraq a couple years earlier and that motivated him to join the military as soon as he turned 18. I met a Staff Sergeant that was a Professional Wrestler in his off-time. Even though he was the Heel of the act, he loved every minute of it, especially he crowd’s heckling and booing. I worked with an Airman First Class that was a professionally trained culinary chef before joining the Air Force. I was even deployed with a pilot whose identical twin brother was the personal assistant to Adam Levine, the lead singer of Maroon 5. I had to see pictures to believe it though!
The bottom line is this, you’ll never know how amazing the people you’re working with are unless you take the time to find out. Getting to know them and letting them get to know you is not only enjoyable, impactful, and creates long lasting relationships, it’s our responsibility as leaders and as Airmen. So, how are you living up to this responsibility?