Editor’s note: This commentary was first published on Feb. 5, 2018.
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — It is fitting that as we celebrate Valentine’s Day during the month of February, we spend some extra time thinking about the people we care about. My kids have already started the annual ritual of deciding which Valentine’s cards and candy they want to hand out to their classmates. Beyond the flowers, chocolates, and cards we exchange, it’s important for us to take that extra step and truly engage with our family, friends and fellow Airmen (capital A to include all ranks and our valued civilian co-workers).
Having been in command for just over six months, I’m regularly surprised at just how many challenges our folks face on a daily basis. Members who often seem to be thriving and crushing their day-to-day jobs are often the same ones who are going through serious challenges. The Air Force does an outstanding job providing our Airmen with numerous avenues to seek help. Yet I’ve learned that all too frequently, members who are struggling don’t seek out that help. This is where you come in.
A term I’ve heard that addresses our responsibility as Air Force members is “intrusive leadership.” The implication of this term is that leaders will take the extra steps necessary to dig a little deeper when checking on the well-being of a fellow Airman. It means asking hard questions and accepting that personal relationships may be impacted. It means being prepared that a relationship may get a little messy and you will be getting involved in someone else’s personal business. However, I assure you that you won’t regret the decision to ask the difficult questions and confront a friend or co-worker if your gut tells you something is wrong.
I was recently inspired by one of my own Airmen who trusted his gut and allowed a relationship to get messy. The member approached me at a commander’s breakfast and asked for advice as he had a friend back home who was talking about suicide. Together we looked at options for his friend and contacted Military One Source. Even though his friend is not a military member and lives in another state, Military One Source proved to be a wealth of information, providing us with support locations, phone numbers, and great advice on how to help his friend. The Airman took advantage of these options and worked aggressively with his friend’s parents to ensure they knew how seriously the situation was and what they needed to do to help. This Airman demonstrated intrusive leadership, and I’m happy to report that his friend is currently getting the help he so desperately needed.
Are you willing to be an intrusive leader? I can guarantee that my Airman is glad that he trusted his instincts and took the difficult steps to ask for help, confront his friend, and involve other people to provide support. He didn’t do it alone, he asked for help and utilized a variety of resources and his friend is alive today because of it.
We never truly know what is going on in others’ lives unless we invest the time to connect and ask difficult questions. While Valentine’s Day serves as an annual reminder to let your friends and family know you care, don’t forget to take the extra step to find out how they are truly doing.