May 11, 2012

A tap on the shoulder

by Lt. Col. Arlene Collazo
Schriever AFB, Colo.

As I was searching for a topic for this article, I realized I needed to look no further than our Air Force Core Values: integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do. As our unit prepares for an inspection, I decided to focus on the third, but equally important, core value: Excellence In All We Do.

There is a quote from Sir Winston Churchill that captures the core value of excellence very well.

“For every man there comes that special moment when he is physically tapped on the shoulder and offered the 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 the work which would be his finest hour.”

Churchill’s quote brings up two things that we should focus on. First, how do we avoid being caught unprepared and unqualified for the work we are chosen to do? Second, how do we recognize the tap on the shoulder?

As airmen, we avoid being caught unprepared and unqualified by always striving for excellence in all we do.

The Air Force chose excellence, not perfection, as the core value to motivate Airmen to seek continuous development and improvement. We seek excellence when we prepare and strive to score better each time we take the physical Fitness Assessment.

We seek excellence when we look for opportunities to develop professionally.

We seek excellence when we approach our monthly recurring training with the attitude and intent of becoming subject matter experts, not just passing the test. Excellence, then, is a process and a journey, not a destination.

Therefore, there may be setbacks and falls, but we should bounce back and continue striving for excellence. Don’t sell yourself short. Instead, as the Army recruiting slogan in the 1980s and 1990s said, “Be All You Can Be.”

As leaders, we should mentor our airmen to develop themselves as subject matter experts in their specialties and their current job.

We should encourage and enable them to seek out and complete professional military and academic education. We owe them a robust training and upgrade program in order to help them on their road to excellence. And, once in a while, we owe them a tap on the shoulder, a challenge to keep them motivated in their pursuit of excellence.

Recently, a friend shared a picture that showed lots of math equations and the quote “I am still waiting for the time when I actually have to use them.” At first, I laughed and agreed with the quote, thinking, I’ve never used those equations in the real world. But then I stopped laughing. The more I looked at the picture, the more I wondered how many times I had the opportunity to use those equations in real life but I did not recognize them.

Math equations aside, how do we recognize we are being chosen to do something unique and fitted to our talents?

Sometimes the call is pretty obvious: our supervisor or commander calls us to the office and gives us a challenge, unit Air Force Assistance Fund point of contact, distinguished visitor tour escort, flight commander, etc.

However, the majority of the time, there is no external calling or tap on our shoulder. That does not mean we are not meant to do something special. It means that the call needs to originate within us. As airmen, we should look for opportunities to contribute our talents to lead our crews, flights and units to excellence. We should ask ourselves, “What can I do to make my crew/flight/unit better?” That way, we always answer the call, even if it was our own call.

So what are you waiting for? Didn’t you just feel that tap?

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