Leadership Lessons: Have you checked your tires lately?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Arlene Adams
  • 319th Medical Support Squadron commander
Your attitude is a choice and one that you make every day, many times a day. Think about the power that you have with this, not only affecting you but the people around you. A situation is thrown at you, good or bad, and you get to call the shots on how you're going to interpret and handle it. Life and work can throw you many circumstances, but how you react to it is still your choice.

I still remember when I in-processed at the Los Angeles AFB clinic in May 2011 and my Unit Deployment Manager told me the chances of deploying a lieutenant colonel Medical Service Corps (MSC) officer from there were slim to none. The following year I was given a short-notice tasking for deployment to Afghanistan. I knew my job would be the Health Validation Team Lead, reporting to Kabul in two months with regular outside-the-wire missions. There were a lot of emotions, stress and the fear of the unknown influencing my attitude. After putting things in perspective, I chose to have a positive attitude and capitalize on the opportunity, rather than have a negative attitude and possibly severely cripple my ability to perform.

Facing challenges and fears, learning from them and helping those around me were some ways I managed my attitude throughout that journey. I met many professionals - Army, Air Force and Navy members and civilians - all working toward a common goal. I will never forget Cmdr. Garland Andrews, a Navy MSC and advisor to the Commander of the Afghan National Army Medical Command, who said to me, "Once you leave here you will be able to say you took part in developing a nation's healthcare system." Those words helped clarify my purpose in Afghanistan and proved useful in helping my team and others put things in perspective. Most of us chose to maintain positive attitudes throughout the deployment, focusing on the mission and getting home safely to our loved ones. No one is immune from negativity, so having a wingman to watch your back in and outside the wire and keeping negativity in check was vital.

The deployed location provides challenges for the people side of the equation. The constant close quarters with the same people 24/7, wearing body armor, carrying a weapon every day in very austere environments and the constant exposure to risk caused much stress and fear, even to the very best. This created an environment that made it worse when people chose to react with a negative attitude. Although I don't believe this was their intent, that's how easily such poor attitudes can spread and effect morale. Negativism can affect even the most positive people, causing a lack of focus on the mission, bringing down morale. It was recognized that a lot of the negativity stemmed from their focus on things beyond their control and scope of mission. In other words, they became obsessed with the "what ifs".

As I look back at my experience and what I've learned throughout all the time I've spent in Afghanistan, the following tips and strategies helped me keep my attitude in check and can be used while either deployed or at home base.

Know your purpose: Know your role (at home, work, community, etc.). If you gain clarity and understand your purpose you won't get caught up in things that are out of your control. So many times we get caught up in the daily grind that we lose sight of our goals. Understanding the importance of living your life with purpose and passion or having a personal vision can lead to not only a positive attitude, but a more rewarding experience.

Surround yourself with positive influences: Have someone you can talk to who won't feed your negative energy but will reinforce you with positive energy. It's good to have that trusted agent (wingman), someone you can vent to who's not afraid to challenge your thought process in a more positive light. In other words, someone who won't jump on the band wagon and add to the pity party. Also, try to feed your mind with positive stories or positive quotes. Reading about other success stories may inspire and influence you to do better and have a positive attitude.

Distance yourself from negative influences: Recognize negativity and do not let it get into your head. Instead of putting effort into analyzing or pondering negative thoughts, practice ignoring them. This doesn't mean you have to disregard your thoughts or your experiences, but it prevents negativity from growing and creating more turmoil.

Set Achievable Goals: Set daily, achievable goals for yourself. Celebrate the small steps. Developing a pattern of positive achievement will help you gain a pattern of positive thinking and a positive attitude.

Although these were my lessons learned in a deployed environment, they are just as effective and applicable to our home base and daily lives. Attitude is the one single most powerful decision you will make several times each and every day. The scope of influence you have over this decision is often overlooked and not taken as seriously as it truly is. No one is immune from negativity or the choice of how you respond. The next time you find yourself struggling to stay positive, take a few moments to think about the influence you are having on those around you, the mission, and if this is truly the path you want to take. We are all leaders in some capacity and have a responsibility to be positive. How can you expect to inspire, motivate and lead with a poor attitude? The simple answer is that you can't - it just won't work. As the saying goes, "A bad attitude is like a flat tire, you can't get very far until you change it." Have you checked your tires lately?