LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – Connection is a basic human need that serves as a foundation for organizational success. This concept allows members to foster trust and security, which are essential for personal buy-in to the organization. In our recent resiliency tactical pause, some raised concerns over their inability to connect with students. This sentiment was echoed by a group of instructor pilots, who also cited connection as a major obstacle. This directly impacts our vision to sustaining the most professional pilot training organization to which we aspire. Whether in a classroom or work center, connection is the catalyst to success.
Capt. William Smith, 47th Operations Group chief of training, explained how professional intimacy, another name for workplace connectedness, is essential to facilitate a positive impact on students’ development. “An instructor has to build a rapport, free from fear or enmity, for a student to willfully accept instruction. Without the rapport and consent of professional intimacy, a student is likely to protect themselves and regress into survival mode.” In other words, a leader sets the tone that enables real connection.
In the book “Primal Leadership,” the authors describe the science behind our interpersonal influence. Specifically, the limbic system, the part of the brain involved in our behavioral and emotional responses. This is an open-loop design which means other people can change the very physiology that affect our emotions. This premise reiterates that emotionally intelligent leaders can shepherd a team’s physiology to inspire healthy, encouraging mindsets. It’s scientifically proven that positive emotions are more socially contagious than negative emotions, so unleash that smile and let loose that laugh!
Smiles and laughs aside, we have to address some of the barriers in order to mitigate their impact. One barrier is a misunderstanding of “Air Education Training Command Instruction 36-2909, Professional and Unprofessional Relationships.” Initially, when Laughlin Air Force Base personnel were briefed on this instruction, the severity of discipline for violations caused fear, which drove some to retreat from student interaction. This was understandable given the organizational climate at the time, however, the AETC instruction is designed to provide standardized guidelines for permanent party to avoid bias, and to ensure clear boundaries are identified for inappropriate interactions. This isn’t a new concept by any means and clarifies acceptable and unacceptable behavior, so we can actively pursue professional intimacy to bolster teamwork.
Another barrier is often misidentified as increased operational tempo, but is actually a lack of work satisfaction and engagement. Daniel Pink, author of the book, “DRiVE,” coined the term “flow.” Have you ever been so into a project or challenge that you lost track of time? That’s flow. Pink described flow as the condition where “the relationship between what a person had to do and what he could do was perfect.” An enduring lack of flow causes work to become dreary and burdensome, which is exacerbated by increased operational demands. Remember the reasons we serve, how you influence the mission and organizational goals, and your chances of hitting flow will increase exponentially.
The last barrier to connection is what the Arbinger Institute calls an inward mindset — the mindset that focuses only on our own personal goals and objectives without consideration for our impact on others. Despite our best efforts, we’re all susceptible to this in different areas and times.
The key to mitigating this pitfall is shifting our mindset outward. Take a moment to consider the needs of others, their challenges, objectives and focus on collective results. Actively build relationships rather than jumping to correction when things inevitably go wrong. As our Arbinger coach, Richard Tatum, stated, “Connection before direction.” Therefore, by building relationships and overcoming the barriers to connection, we can transform Laughlin AFB together!