Leadership Lessons: Communication and Collaboration

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- Growing up on the east side of Indianapolis, I never dreamed I would be an Air Force Chaplain, or a military officer. The nuns who taught me in elementary school would have said the next stop for me was prison. It is a privilege to wear the Air Force uniform. My personal successes in the Air Force are attributed to a host of others. Many people have mentored me to excellence. So I ask you: Who mentors you to be your best? The Air Force says we need a good Wingman. I agree.

I agree because we need people who can inspire us to reach goals. As a teenager, I followed professional wrestling. How those muscle-heads choreographed their moves was jaw-dropping to me! I thought, how could they do those acrobatic moves without decimating each other? I would later find out it took great skill on their part to make it look real. I especially liked the tag-team wrestlers. Two wrestlers, in the ring faking it, were decent. Four behemoths, in the ring, were mind-boggling. Tag-team wrestlers entertained the crowd by communicating and collaborating with each other. These two ingredients, when missing from a wrestling match, can have fatal consequences. Like professional wrestling, in the Air Force, it takes great skill to communicate and collaborate.

A Wingman is a tag-team partner in our Air Force journey. We need this Wingman to communicate with us in candid ways. They tell us when we need correction. They guide us to avoid turbulent actions. They do this without ridiculing us. I like George Herbert who said, "Good words are worth much, and cost little." Can you recall the last time you used good words with a fellow Airman?

A Wingman also collaborates. This ingredient can be arduous. Let me flash back to the nuns from grade school. At the time, I grimaced at what I thought was their cold-blooded teaching tactics. When my stubborn attitude subsided, I learned so much. I would go on to graduate from high school, attain a Bachelor of Arts degree in college, and garner a Masters of Divinity degree from a school of theology. I did this because of the early foundation laid for me by them. I discovered collaboration and it paid dividends. What does it do for the Air Force? Collaboration hoists mission impact. It strengthens esprit de corps. Yes, it provides good order and discipline yet we often ask, "why should I bother with so-and-so?" Answer: Airmen need each other. Collaboration is what makes the Air Force work. Collaboration also teaches us many things about ourselves and other people. We cannot accomplish things on our own. Can you remember the last time collaboration caused you to learn something new or propelled you to achieve the impossible?

One of the Last Five Good Emperors of Rome plus one of the most important Stoic philosophers, Marcus Aurelius, said, "The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing." Engagement is critical for us who wear the Air Force uniform. Engagement means collaboration and communication. They are crucial for our success as Airmen. Like dancing, at times, they are done gracefully. Like professional wrestling, at times, they are done flamboyantly. What matters most is that we collaborate and communicate with each other. Graceful is the ideal, a goal for Airmen to aspire to.