Leadership Lessons: Represent!

  • Published
  • By Maj. Frank Burks
  • 319th Comptroller Squadron commander
As a new squadron commander, I wanted to be able to relay expectations for my team in an easy, concise phrase they could remember and think about: "Represent the Air Force to the best of your abilities, and never lose sight of our core values." This was part of my change of command speech, and it's been reiterated at every commander's call. Each Airman represents the Air Force every day, in and out of uniform, but are we truly doing it to the best of our ability? I'm proud to say there are quite a few of you out there who are.

Being a member of the world's best Air Force is demanding. Trust me when I say, we have folks hitting home runs at work every day. For example, your comptroller squadron has held the best grade-card in Air Mobility Command for over a year! It doesn't really need to be stated, but that is simply amazing. This team accomplished this by establishing clear goals, training, tracking and "gettin 'er done!" However, I'd be mistaken if I said that there is only one recipe for how to represent. Each of us must do it our own way. We all have different circumstances to consider: family, school, deployments, etc., I could go on and on. The key is to remember you represent "in and out of uniform." Whether you represent at work, when coaching a youth soccer team, while volunteering at the Chapel, or when attending courses at a local university, your actions reflect on the Air Force and all Warriors of the North.

Wearing the uniform makes you a representative of the USAF. This means anything you do is a reflection of more than yourself. You represent your unit, your wing, your base, your wingmen, etc. Staff Sgt. Shane Holland is a great example. A spiritual, dedicated family man whom our Air Force has nationally recognized as a Victim's Advocate for the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program, he has served as Vice President of the Airman's Activity Council and has led the base chapel's children's ministry. Shane is merely one example of "Warriors of the North" representing the Air Force to the best of their abilities, and he's a role model for all of us. Shane's motto in life is "Keep moving forward." Shane, I may have to borrow that and add it to my list of expectations!

A key aspect of representing is continual improvement, both in our personal and professional lives. To be successful, especially in the military, we must look to improve ourselves and those we lead. My point: don't become complacent in how you improve, how you lead, and how you represent. I've served for over 21 years now, and I know there's been more than one time where I lost focus and didn't represent as well as I could have. Heck, it's easy to do and almost natural for anyone over a long career. However, being able to identify and self-correct is what leaders and Airmen are expected to do. Whether you are looking to make the Air Force a career, already at the end of your career and looking to transition to civilian life, or a new Airman and not sure what your plans are, don't settle for status quo. Strive for the edge that sets you, your unit and those around you up for success.

As I was preparing to assume command, I spent much time deciding what my "motto" was going to be, how was I going to represent. Since comptrollers are the money gurus, at the risk of sounding a bit cliché-ish, I thought nothing hits the mark better than "Paying it Forward." Simply put, Paying it Forward implies doing a good deed for others without expecting a return, going out of your way and taking the extra time to truly serve others, and passing one's fortunate circumstances on to others. This simple approach applies both in personal and professional lives. Why Pay it Forward? Other than being the right thing to do, it puts people at ease. It lets them know not only can you help, but more importantly you want to help. Being a finance or budget technician isn't always easy. We are bound by strict guidelines, adhere to a mountain of regulations, and interact with numerous systems and customers who need our help. But like any other Airman, we take great pride in what we do; being experts in military pay, providing sound advice to commanders, and providing fiscal stewardship of base resources and taxpayer dollars. In other words, we are proud to fund the fight, we are proud to help enable all other missions to "Fly - Fight - Win"! But regardless of your AFSC, I am certain if we approach our mission, duties and personal lives with a "Pay it Forward" attitude, then you will truly be representing the Air Force and all Warriors of the North!

Pay it forward ... keep moving forward ... how are you going to represent?