Commentary

March 8, 2013

Small gestures … big dividends

Col. YOLANDA BLEDSOE
56th Medical Group

Analog leaders in a digital world

Promotions, retirements, rendering a salute, giving a firm handshake; how about saying “Hello” as you pass people in your work environment or when you’re out in the community? Even a smile or nod of acknowledgement would be a great start. What about supporting squadron and base intramural teams and attending community events? Are we missing opportunities to connect with our people?

These simple gestures, customs and courtesies appear to some as insignificant acts or very small fish in the big scheme of what we do on a daily basis; so much so that we hardly notice when they slip away or disappear altogether replaced by email, texts, Facebook posts or invisible leaders within our organizations.

In fact, the rise of technology, or “the digital era,” has created an environment where we communicate less and fewer times in person and more and more through electronic devices. Yes, we are missing opportunities to connect with our people!

While stationed at Misawa Air Base, Japan, in 2008, one of our senior officers visited, and he so eloquently provided some powerful words.

“We need to find ways to continue to be analog in a digital world!”

Our steadfast reliance on computers, email, fax machines, cell phones and many other technological devices offer many conveniences for us, but they have also changed our lifestyle drastically. Technological advances have created faster-paced environments and forced us to respond and work with greater speed or at a faster pace to maintain the workload, respond to taskers and drive home results.

In an effort to keep up with the perpetual inbox, incoming taskers and text messages, the natural tendency for people is to withdraw from each other and spend an inordinate amount of time behind the desk with an electronic device or constantly checking our hips or pockets for a smartphone to ensure we can answer those taskers and clear the inbox in a timely fashion.

In addition to living and working in faster-paced environments, technology has given us a false sense of security. We complete taskers in a relatively short time frame and can forward those results anywhere in the world in a matter of minutes. And with the speed in which technology allows us to receive, acknowledge and complete projects, we have begun to re-evaluate the amount of personnel it takes to perform daily operations, and in some instances, the human factor has been replaced by technology. In many areas of our day-to-day life, our most precious resource, people, remain, and we should want to connect with them not just digitally but on an analog level with face-to-face interactions or social gatherings.

Over the course of my military career, face-to-face communications, small gestures, and certain customs and courtesies have dwindled while electronic transmissions have skyrocketed. As a young lieutenant, I distinctly recall my senior leaders being visible while modeling behaviors and embracing Air Force traditions they expected junior officers to emulate. My supervisors and commanders, despite their busy schedules, made rounds checking on operations, attending intramural sporting events and getting to know their personnel, both on and off duty. When I look back, I can visualize great promotion and retirement ceremonies, and the pride I had in rendering my first salute.

As many of you know there are very few days that I am without a smile on my face and “hello” is not far from my lips as I make rounds to the units within the clinic or when out in public. I prefer to walk next door to my executive assistant or secretary’s office and discuss things instead of sending an email. Communicating with people face-to-face enhances interpersonal skills and helps to decrease miscommunication cues that are often present with email, texts or phone calls. At the same time, you create wonderful opportunities to develop relationships with people and an environment where people feel valued because you took the time to visit and talk to them instead of relying solely on email, texts or Facebook posts.

Now, we are all aware that the technological era is here to stay. But as supervisors, commanders and leaders, I challenge you; don’t miss opportunities to connect with your people. Take the time to celebrate time-honored traditions, attend sporting events and visit duty sections. By all means, take time to say “Hello,” smile or offer a firm handshake, and take pride in every salute you render or receive. Investing in these small gestures will pay big dividends toward helping us be more “analog in a digital world.”

So, what are you waiting for? CTRL-ALT-DELETE; remove CAC and get out there! Let your smile and handshake change lives today.




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