Leadership Lessons: Reflections

  • Published
  • By Col. Christopher R. Mann
  • 319th Air Base Wing vice commander
Monday, August 19, 2013. For most folks, including myself, this particular Monday looked much like most other Mondays that had preceded it. Admittedly, it was a normal day in my life--special for the opportunities a new day brings but no more or less noteworthy than any other day save for one small, personal milestone: as of this date, I had now officially spent half my life as a commissioned officer in our U.S. Air Force.

I had calculated this particular date a few years ago somewhat out of curiosity but also because of its symbolic meaning: it seemed to me that something you were willing to spend half (or more!) of your life doing ought to matter. Of course, the meaning of "what matters" is highly personal, so I dedicated a bit of this day to some personal reflection on the journey that had taken me and my family to this particular time and place.

Some of the first thoughts that came to mind involved a retirement ceremony many years ago for a highly respected lieutenant colonel who reminded us that a military career--no matter how long it may last--passes far too quickly. Another thought brought memories of an Air Force Academy philosophy instructor who, prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, informed us cadets that the military profession is unlike any other in that its practitioners typically train their entire professional lives for an event (war) that may happen only once during their careers. I also recalled that first night of the Desert Storm air war that would come to herald both the end as well as the beginning of a new era of warfare (and also change my philosophy instructor's mind about the frequency of warfare during a typical military career). Then there were the unforgettable events of 9/11 which unfolded as my family and I were in transit to a new duty station, as well as the numerous deployments that followed.

Although events such as these certainly shaped the lives of me and my family, it's the personal memories of the people I've been privileged to serve with over the past 22-plus years who have made the strongest impression. I've often said that, regardless of the reasons a person joins the Air Force, your family and the people you serve with ultimately have the greatest influence on your decision to stay. It is my belief that the Air Force's Core Values of Integrity First, Service before Self, and Excellence in All We Do resound strongly in the vast majority of our fellow Airmen, and it is this common set of values that binds us together and makes continued service such an attractive option. While much may change or be beyond the scope of our control, we can take comfort in knowing those values remain constant in our very turbulent lives.

With respect to turbulence, it's no secret to anyone that the Air Force is going through a period of great change. As budgetary constraints and various force management programs are implemented, many if not all of our Airmen are feeling the direct effects of that turbulence. The challenge we face is to ensure every Airman's dignity is respected and preserved even as we must make some very tough choices to ensure our Service maintains its status as the most feared Air Force ever to be fielded in the history of the world. Additionally, regardless of any adversity we may face, we can never permit ourselves to lose sight of the very Air Force Core Values that make us who we are: American Airmen!

For those facing the uncertainty that comes with decreased budgets, force management programs, deployments, PCS moves, etc., I humbly offer some advice I've been giving for many years: focus your energy and efforts on those things you can control, and let the rest take care of itself. So what exactly do you control? Plenty! You control your job performance and attitude, adherence to our Core Values, PME and advanced academic degree completion, personal fitness and conduct, and much more. And what kinds of things are outside the scope of your direct control? Deployments, assignments, OPRs/EPRs, awards, promotions, and force management board decisions. However, it's not too difficult to see that even those things you can't directly control are very much influenced by those factors that you can control.

Each of us is keenly aware that military service is a privilege, and I most certainly feel fortunate to have been permitted the privilege to serve our nation and the Air Force as a commissioned officer for more than half my lifetime. And while no one can absolutely guarantee that everyone who desires a career of service to the Air Force will be provided that option, I'm confident those who focus on things that are within their control will ultimately succeed in any endeavor they choose. Why? Because the same qualities that make you a good Airman also make you a productive citizen, a great boss, a responsible worker, a team player--the kind of person people want to work for or have work for them--regardless of whether or not the reflection of the person staring back at you in the mirror is wearing a uniform or civvies.