Leadership Lessons: What do you stand for?

  • Published
  • By Col. Robert Cook
  • 319th Air Base Wing vice commander
In recent commentaries our Wing Commander, Colonel Bauman, and senior enlisted member, Command Chief Duncan, stated the Air Force Core Values are the foundation of our profession, that adherence to them is non-negotiable, that they should always be in our cross-check and a regular topic of discussion in units, rather than occasional buzzwords in a commander's speech or a one-time discipline hammer. In order to do this I believe every Airman - that's all of us - needs to spend some quality time reflecting on what the Core Values mean. Not only do we need to internalize them, but also understand our personal beliefs and values so when confronted with a difficult situation we have a clear light to guide ourselves through the darkness. Finally, we should never feel hesitant or awkward about telling others what we stand for.

Without getting too philosophical, beliefs are those things I have faith in and I accept to be true. First and foremost is my belief in the Golden Rule of doing unto others as I would have them do unto me. Secondly, I believe in the ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Therefore, I have an unwavering belief in the inherent goodness of the United States of America. As a result, I have dedicated my adult life to the service of this great nation and will continue that service in some fashion once my military career ends. Finally, I believe in my family, my fellow service members and my friends. Their well-being, success and happiness give me the tangible evidence that man is fundamentally good. Motivating me to bring my best on a daily basis and validating the dictum that no amount of giving ever outweighs what you get in return.

How does one go about bringing his or her best each and every day? For me it means adhering to one's values and striving to never compromise them. While there are many values I hold in high regard, there are three that I treasure the most. My first, and most important value, is integrity. Integrity is, as the Air Force Core Values state, "the 'moral compass' - the inner voice; the voice of self-control; the basis for the trust imperative in today's military." Integrity is my foundational value and it encompasses the characteristics of being honest, trustworthy, accountable for your actions and responsible for those people and equipment put in your care. The second value I cherish is courage, both moral and physical. One could argue courage is just a characteristic of integrity, but I feel it needs to be in its own category because courage requires one to dig deep in a difficult situation and make the right decision despite the potential for high personal cost. The final value I place on my personal top shelf is humility. Humility can be difficult to define as a value because one could say it means being meek or having little self-esteem in relations to others. This misses the point of humility as a value. Rather, I agree with how Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen views humility as a value not defined by self-deprecating behavior or attitudes but by the esteem with which you regard others. I value what all bring to the table regardless of rank, background, gender, race or religion. This value really came into focus during my time as a squadron commander and holds true to this day. I quickly realized that due to the size and diversity the people and mission sets of the squadron, I was not the expert and I had to rely on the entire team in order for the unit to be a success. With humility as an enabler, the synergy created by a team that understands all members have important roles to play is a very positive and powerful thing.

So my challenge to each and every Warrior of the North is to spend some quality time reflecting on - and internalizing - the Core Values. Additionally, you need to clearly know what your personal beliefs and values are and not be afraid of talking about them. Bottom line, trying to figure out what you stand for in a time of crisis is a recipe for disaster!

I'll close with a quote by Carl von Clausewitz that is a personal favorite of mine and sums up what I've attempted to convey in the preceding paragraphs: "If the mind is to survive this constant battle with the unexpected two qualities are indispensable; first, an intellect that even in this moment of intense darkness retains some trace of the inner light that will lead it to the truth, and second, the courage to go where that faint light leads."