Lessons Learned

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --

I am extremely honored to have served alongside many great men and women for over 27 years within four career fields, over 14 assignments and five deployments.  I say all this only to show I have learned some hard lessons to becoming a first line supervisor, NCO, SNCO, and now a Chief. 

  1. Things happen for a reason!  You can only control what you can control. Once you have done everything possible to get a different result than what is revealed then there is nothing you can do so don’t stress over it, it wasn’t meant to be!  If you can’t control the situation, then adapt and overcome!    If you can change it, then do it, don’t be afraid. Take risks… step out of your comfort zone!  Remember, every negative experience can be used as an opportunity for tremendous growth.

  2. Positive thinking is a way of life.  When someone we are dealing with has a positive attitude our experience ends pleasantly, right?  Have you ever experienced a person who was always negative, never smiled, constantly brought up problems but never provided solutions, always blamed others, and took no responsibility for their mistakes?  People who maintain a positive approach to life situations and challenges will be able to move forward more constructively than those who become stuck in the past and/or have a negative mind-set. 

  3. How we react to situations is crucial!  When someone betrays you or something goes against your better judgement, it is all about how we react to these people and/or situations; we can’t choose what others do or say but we can choose how we react and respond to it.  Be calm, think positive, put things in perspective, and trust your skills, expertise, and intuition.

  4. Know yourself and your people.  Knowing your aspirations, shortcomings, behaviors and everything that makes you who you are is paramount for adapting to life changes that suit your needs.  As a self-aware leader, you need to get to know your team.  What are their hobbies, personal and professional goals, what motivates and inspires them, etc.?  As we work more with less, it gets harder to take the time to know your people however if we don’t take care of our people, the mission will suffer.  “People First, Mission Always!”

  5. Be approachable.  Say good morning first, don’t wait for someone to say it to you first.  Be personable, polite and smile.  Keep your door open.  Talk about your setbacks and what you learned from them; it is an excellent way for your people to learn from you.  Help them grow.  Being a leader is about mentorship and development.  Make the workplace fun and recognize your Airman; have team building exercises, recognition ceremonies, have picnics, go bowling, etc. 

  6. Communicate up and down the chain of command.  Have courage to bring issues and/or problems up to your leadership using your chain of command.  Don’t assume higher levels of leadership is aware of everything that is going on at your level.  Pass down appropriate information from staff meetings to ensure members are in the know.  Never beat around the bush with your people, be clear and direct.       

  7. Provide constant feedback to your subordinates.  Airman Comprehensive Assessments are required at certain times, however verbal feedbacks should be occurring in between those times.  Your subordinates want to know how they are doing!  As simple as saying “great job on that tasker” is feedback!

  8. Make Comprehensive Airman Fitness a part of your life!  CAF is a lifestyle change for individuals to improve their quality of life by staying physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually fit.  It is extremely important to understand these concepts and be able to relay them to your subordinates.   Through CAF, Airmen become more resilient and can handle the everyday stressors we all deal with as military members.

  9. Take time for self-reflection. In any role, whether at home or at work, reflection is an important part of learning.  Without reflection, we can become stuck in a routine that may not be working effectively. Taking time to think about your own actions, decisions, and behaviors can help you identify changes you might need to make; reflect on your strengths/weaknesses, problems/solutions, and achievements/happiness, etc.

  10. Be passionate about something!  Passion drives vision, ignites others, raises influences, and provides potential.  Being passionate is more than “doing what you love” or “following your dream”.  Passion is a belief that you’re doing something meaningful and motivates you to keep going even when it is difficult.  Whatever your passion is, it will be in line with your life priorities, for instance, my priorities are Faith, Family, and Mission…subsequently my passion is working with a local homeless ministry.

It took me many years to figure out having a work life balance was key to managing life.  I was a workaholic, who did not make time to work-out other than prepping for the annual PT test, did not have time for any hobbies, did not volunteer other than to fill in a bullet for EPR or award package, etc.  All four CAF domains were missing.  I lost sight of why I enlisted.  I used to think it was all about me rather than something bigger than me.  I really didn’t understand what it meant to be a part of the Profession of Arms.  If you know of someone who focuses on themselves, more than others, they may need to be reminded of why they enlisted in the USAF.