Commentary

June 20, 2013

What do you radiate?

Commentary by Col. Daniel Smith
56th Aerospace Medicine Squadron

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. — I am a believer in the power of positive influence. I buy into such phrases as “your attitude determines your altitude.” I have been the benefactor of being led by those who radiate positive vibes. Not in a heads in the clouds Pollyanna kind of way, but a glass half full … turn lemons into lemonade kind of way. I am driven by leaders that exhibit drive and motivation. Nothing seems to get them down. They find the silver lining and turn the dark clouds into success stories. Not every time, but some of the time — if not much of the time.

I have also had the opportunity to be led by leaders who were less than positive, somewhat cranky, and emanated a rather drab and derogatory air of influence. You can instantly tell the difference between the two.

With one who emanates positive influence and energy, your interactions are usually productive, fulfilling and motivating. You typically walk away from such interactions uplifted, confident and eager to go to work and get the job done. When you stumble or are down, these interactions are instructive and corrective at times, but you feel the support and confidence of this type of leader. You will do your best to accomplish the mission, not only for the sake of the mission, but because you don’t ever want to let this leader down.

By the same token, you could have done a spectacular job, accomplished the mission ahead of the rest, and won several awards, and yet, when you walk away from a boss with negative energy, you can feel depleted, deflated, depressed, angry or as if the very life has been sucked out of you. We have all had interactions with people who can burst a bubble or drain the life out of you in a heartbeat. (See “Dementors” in Harry Potter novels/movies).

During a squadron commander seminar, commanders were told, “You can never have a bad day.” The tone you set as a commander or leader will radiate through your entire domain of stewardship. Not ever having a bad day is a fairly tall order. I understand the concept, not showing you are having a bad day is probably the concept they were getting to. But perhaps it’s something more. Every individual emanates or radiates an influence on those around him. It is one of the beautiful things of being human. I found a quote by a revered leader name David O. McKay which delineates this idea;

“There is one responsibility which no man can evade; that responsibility is his personal influence. Man’s unconscious influence is the silent, subtle radiation of personality – the effect of his words and actions on others. This radiation is tremendous. Every moment of life man is changing, to a degree, the life of the whole world. Every man has an atmosphere which is affecting every other man. He cannot escape for one moment from this radiation of his character, this constant weakening or strengthening of others. Man cannot evade the responsibility by merely saying it is an unconscious influence. Man can select the qualities he would permit to be radiated. He can cultivate sweetness, calmness, trust, generosity, truth, justice, loyalty, nobility and make them vitally active in his character. And by these qualities he will constantly affect the world. This radiation, to which I refer, comes from what a person really is, not from what he pretends to be. Every man by his mere living is radiating either sympathy, sorrow, morbidity, cynicism, or happiness and hope, or any one of a hundred other qualities. Life is a state of radiation and absorption. To exist is to radiate; to exist is to be the recipient of radiation.”

Positive radiation, influence, energy, or qi (chee) if you desire, is a contagious, and powerful force in strengthening, and fostering successful relationships. It is only one element or attribute of a leader in the overall picture of leadership talent, techniques and attributes, but the force multiplying effect of positive radiation has a powerful impact for good on the entire family, organization or unit.

So positive radiation comes from two sources; from the central core of whom and what a person really is, and their mental attitude of how they are going to reflect that core in any given situation at any time. I remember during my tenure as an emergency medicine resident pulling into the driveway after a rather taxing, stressful, 36-hour shift of giving my all in the way of life saving, compassion rendering, soul stretching experiences, and I was about to pass the threshold into the sphere of influence where I have a powerful impact as a father and husband. I had tried to develop the habit of taking a minute to mentally decompress, to leave everything outside before I entered the home and into another arena where leadership, compassion and kindness were likely to be needed and absorbed. Although difficult, I was grateful for that exercise which helped develop an awareness of the importance of radiating a positive, good influence to the members of my household. I wasn’t perfect at it, (to which my family can surely attest), but I became very aware of its importance which helped me keep the influence I was radiating squarely on my radar.

In John C. Maxwell’s “Learning the 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader,” he quotes psychologist William James who says, “The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitude of mind.” So positive radiation doesn’t only exist in the heart, but also in the mind.

Over time, a leader’s influence will start to be reflected in the composite attitude of those in their sphere of influence. I think this is why it was stressed to us that “you can never have a bad day.” In the realm of mission, leadership and community, the influence we radiate plays a larger role than one may realize. It says what you’re not saying. It is perceived and absorbed with or without your intention. Your personal radiation or influence is undertone to all you do, say, are, accomplish, lead and direct. How is your leadership radiating?




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(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Courtney Richardson)

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