Commentary

November 30, 2012

Three simple questions

Col. Charles Arnold
Peterson AFB, Colo.

Approximately 16 years ago, I was lucky enough to serve as the wing executive officer at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., under then Brig. Gen. John Becker, who later retired as a major general.

Becker was a dedicated, professional, charismatic leader and mentor who had an enduring impact on his young and impressionable exec (that would be me).

For those of you who have never crossed paths with Becker, he is an intelligent, insightful man and when he shares something, it is wise to take note. He once told me that he reviewed his performance and graded himself as a leader every day. He stated he would often ask himself three simple questions. If he could honestly answer “yes” to each, then he deserved to be in a position of leadership, but on the days he answered “no,” he knew he had failed.

I firmly believe that Becker’s questions apply to each and every one of, whether you are leading a large group, a small section, or an ad hoc team formed to plan and execute an event or tackle an operational issue. Here are his three simple questions:

Am I setting a good example?
Now on the surface this one sounds pretty easy, but it isn’t.
Leading by example is not exclusive to being on duty – it means setting a good example by living and breathing our Air Force core values seven days a week, 24 hours a day. It means setting the example by being a good wingman when you are out with friends for the evening, or by taking a risk and stepping forward when something happens in the dorms that just doesn’t seem right
Most importantly, it means making the tough choices and not looking the other way when you see someone violating our core values. Leaders, regardless of rank, place and time, set a good example.

Are we ready?
On any given day, warriors are deployed and thousands more are accomplishing the mission right here at home. To me, readiness has many components: Is my unit or team trained and equipped to accomplish our mission? Are our personal affairs in order (current vRED and powers of attorney for example)? Have we taken the steps to care for our families (SGLI, current family care plan, etc.)? Are we mentally and spiritually ready?

A few years back another very wise man, Chaplain (Col.) Jimmy Browning, summed this one up in a way that made perfect sense to me.

Browning stated what many of us do every day, especially in the support arena, is practice, practice and then practice a little more. We practice to make sure that when we are called upon we are ready to get in the game. For example, I know from spending time with the explosive ordnance disposal professionals in the 21st Civil Engineer Squadron, that they are ready to execute their highly important and dangerous mission on a moment’s notice. With the assistance of our world-class mobility machine, talented health professionals in the 21st Medical Group, and others, our EOD professionals are always ready to “get in the game.”

Similarly, our space professionals hit a home run every day and Team Peterson’s warriors from the security forces squadron, civil engineer squadron, comptroller squadron, operations group, and HQ Air Force Space Command staff to name just a few, have earned Bronze Stars in the past few years. They were certainly ready to get in the game. So my question for each of you is – are you ready? Can you deliver when the coach looks down the bench and calls out your name?

Am I operating with integrity?
Now this one is a little tougher and it takes a little soul searching.

At the end of the day you have to take stock of yourself and hold yourself accountable for your actions.

Becker used to call this one the “momma test.” He said that if your mom could observe how you conducted yourself throughout the day and she was proud of you, then you are probably acting with integrity and thus worthy to lead. However, if your mom was disappointed in that way that only a mom can be, then you probably were not acting with integrity, and thus you had probably lost the confidence and faith of your people
The key is that each of us needs to find that yardstick that allows us to honestly assess our integrity, performance and our worthiness.
Then we need to apply that standard and honestly self-assess to determine if we are worthy to lead. If we identify gaps during that self-assessment, then we must find ways to fill those gaps. So, are you operating with integrity?

Becker’s lesson has remained with me for the past 16 years. Now I’d like to tell you that every day I ask myself those three simple questions, but sometimes I forget. I’d also like to tell you that I give myself a passing grade each day, but sometimes that daily grade falls short. The key is to fight complacency and ask those tough questions every day. So my goal as I go forward in command, and my challenge to each and every one of you, from our newest airman to our most senior leader, is to ask yourself these same three questions: Am I setting a good example; Are we ready; and Am I operating with integrity?




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