“I don’t want to hurt her career.”
“He’s the best NCO I’ve got. I don’t want to see him lose a stripe.”
How many times have you heard someone in a leadership position make statements such as these when contemplating disciplinary actions when an Airman or NCO makes a terrible decision? Whether due to an individual getting a DUI, failing multiple PT tests or abusing the government credit card, more often than not, emotions creep into the ramification decision making process. To make effective judgments, leaders must put personal emotions aside and make the tough decision to discipline an Airman. When leaders make the tough call, they maintain good order and discipline, earn trust and respect, and uphold our core values.
While our core values are ingrained into our way of life, what they mean may differ slightly from Airman to Airman. Typically when asked what ‘service before self’ means, Airmen give the proverbial answer, “well, I put my Air Force job before my personal desires.” While that is partially true, ‘service before self’ also means making decisions that are in the Air Force’s best interest instead of making decisions that ease emotional pain. Our core values are more than the minimum standards by which we live; they assist us in getting the mission accomplished. To achieve that mission, we must develop our Airmen, not coddle them.
Leaders strive to enrich and mentor their Airmen at every turn. Guidance is provided by using “good order and discipline,” but when leaders allow emotions to slip into disciplinary decisions, good order dissipates.
According to Freek Vermeulen, author and associate professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the London Business School, ““It’s common for smart leaders to make bad decisions — and most of the time, emotions are to blame.” When decisions are made based on one’s own personal feelings instead of basing them on the facts at hand, good order and discipline is lost. For example, when an Airman makes a grave mistake and breaks a law, should his or her lapse in judgment adversely affect their career? Typically, squadron leadership makes that call. If subordinates see punitive decisions that are influenced more by emotions than facts, good order and discipline will become strained and confidence in leadership abilities will be lost.
To be a trusted and respected leader in today’s Air Force, one must understand that in a ‘glass house’ every decision and overall leadership ability is constantly scrutinized by Airmen. Some decisions are small and innocuous, while others are more important: they affect lives and families. Inevitably, leadership mistakes are made along the way. One of the easiest ways to gain respect is to remain consistent when making decisions and remove any personal biases when making the tough calls.
Making life-changing decisions is often the hardest part of being a leader. To soften the blow to your own psyche, always do what’s right, not what “feels” right. Often times, when a hard line is taken, the offender is less likely to repeat the act and others in the unit are less likely to make the same bad decision.
Therefore, when making uncomfortable decisions, put personal emotions aside, uphold our core values, maintain good order and discipline and become the trusted and respected leader you strive to be. The next time one of those phrases creep into your mind, remember you didn’t make the bad decision, the Airman did.