Don't Stop Believin': Drew on Leadership, Lessons and Life

  • Published
  • By Michelle Martin
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – “Have a great day, and welcome to Team Sheppard.”

This is how you are greeted by entry controllers when you come through the gates of Sheppard AFB. This is also how the 82nd Training Wing and Installation Commander, Brig. Gen. Lyle K. Drew, wants everyone to be welcomed.

"I think you have to have some hope that tomorrow is going to be better than yesterday, and that hopefully you are trying to make a difference, not just for selfish personal gain, but because you are trying to make someone else's life a little bit better," the general said.

The public affairs office here sat down with the general and talked to him about his leadership style, expectations and goals during his tenure.

We wanted to get an intimate look into who he is, and what the base can look forward to under his leadership for the next two years. Those in leadership positions have already learned a little about his style, specifically during a mentorship opportunity Drew had with squadron commanders involving cannonballs at the main pool and his most recent memo to commanders and directors outlining his expectations, which is signed off with, “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

Click on the audio player to listen to the conversation, or continue below to read the Q&A.

So we were talking about your first question. So, um, I know who you are based on your biography. Um, I know where you've been and what you've done in your career. Uh, I know that you have a star on your uniform and that means something, but who is Lyle Drew? Who are you as a person?

For so many times in our lives and in our careers, we attach ourselves to our duty title, to the positions we've had, to the rank we wear, especially as military members. And when you ask the question like that, it's actually unsettling because we have a difficulty, sometimes, I think attaching who we are professionally to who are we really in the sense of not wearing the uniform, but the person that shows up every day, um, in the job that we do.

You know, I, I consider myself a pretty simple guy. Um, I came into the Air Force, not knowing really what I wanted to do except to pay for college. And then I realized over time, I really enjoyed the vibe that the military had, and that kept me serving without even thinking about whether it was four years, six years, 10 years, 20, or now, now 26. And so, you know, I enjoy helping people. I enjoy seeing them succeed in what they do, whether it's militarily or not.

I'm a big Netflix fan – I'll binge-watch shows when I have nothing else to do or to decompress. I work out to do the same. I'm an introvert, even though the Air Force has turned me into a functional extrovert by the things I've had to do, but I'm happier being alone and quiet, and that's how I recharge. So after a full day of things I do at work, I'm so happy just to be alone sometimes and just sit and think and relax, which is not obvious, I think, based on, you know, when I watch peers of mine that are in the same boat where we do that.

I like to travel. Uh, I'm a big scuba diver. And so my guilty pleasure, a couple of times a year, is to travel with friends around the world and just, you know, cut connection to all electronic devices and just, you know, go out and do something and see something that I would never get to do any other time in my life. I so wish I had started it earlier. I was introduced to it about six years ago and I wish I had done it 26 years ago, but had no idea, um, what it was like. And I think, you know, overall, I just, I'm just trying to find ways to be better, and not in a professional sense – just as a person.

I think so many times we get wrapped up in excelling or achieving in our professional lives, but we forget about what we're doing personally to take care of ourselves, and I've realized this more as I've gotten older, where working longer hours is interesting and maybe more productive in the things that are expected of me at work, but not as healthy for me as a person. And so I really prize the time that I have when I'm not at work to do things that interest me, whether it's reading, working out, you know, watching some, you know, completely mindless show on TV that just allows me to disconnect, or certainly connecting with friends, uh, that where, most of them are, are here – uh, are not here, actually – are somewhere else in the world.

And so when you get to a job like this, you know, even though there's, you know – no one's going to want to listen to you complain about having the opportunity to command a wing as a one star, but there's no one, there's no peer for me on the base. And so these jobs are lonely, right? And so a lot of my interpersonal social connection is outside of Texas, it's outside of the job, and it's people that I've met over time that are no longer in my professional circle, but now in my social circle. And so I really have to spend time on how to, how to balance all of that, I think, um, because I have no problem when I'm comfortable working a lot. And the hardest thing I have to do is unplug sometimes, and I realize that's probably the healthiest thing for me to do personally. And so, yeah, who am I? I'm someone that is still trying to figure out who he is, I think, like all of us. I don't have all the answers, even though I sit at the head of the table and every meeting I go to now, I certainly do not know everything that is going on. I'm just trying to learn a little bit more every day and just to provide value in what I do.

You know, it's, it's been a great opportunity to serve in the military because it's fed into, I think, a desire I have to serve. My father was a Marine in the Korean War, so never knew him in a military capacity. And so he was the one that really pushed me into going in with no real understanding of what I was doing. And I remember telling him shortly after he passed away and I got to be the wing commander at Robins (AFB, Georgia), I said, little did you know the impact that you've had on my life by just pushing that book across the table, where it had all the colleges that had all the ROTC units, and really I had no, no background or interest in doing it. And it just sparked something in me that really, I think, fed this idea to serve. And in a multitude of capacities, whether it's, uh, you know, in the traditional sense of the military, but certainly, uh, I love volunteering in the community that I live in when I have the opportunity to do that and just helping people grow.

And so, one of the questions I ask, you know, as I go around now, and certainly when I got here, um, you know, what's your favorite song? And for me, it's simple, it's Journey's "Don't Stop Believing," right, because I think you have to have some hope that tomorrow is going to be better than yesterday, and that hopefully you're trying to make a difference, not just for selfish personal gain, but because you're trying to make someone else's life a little bit better. And I think if I can do that every single day, I can go home happy, regardless of how many emails stay in my inbox or how many packages I have to review or sign – that's all ancillary, I think, to what we do. And so, yeah, just trying to be a better version of me.

That's awesome. So, um, you were talking about your dad, um, and, and how that kind of impacted you a little bit. So it's going to kind of lead me into this next question. In your life inside or outside of the military, who is someone that has influenced you as a leader or someone who's made an impact on your military career that has really stuck with you?
I've been asked that question before. It's a difficult one to pinpoint to an individual person or event. There's been so many small things that have happened to me throughout my career that have chosen or allowed me to take a road left or right. In any particular situation.

You know, I go back to, I was a first Lieutenant at Hanscom Air Force Base (in Massachusetts) and my previous boss was serving as the exec for a colonel up there and he was about to leave, and the new boss hadn't picked an exec. He said, "Hey tomorrow, just go up there, sit in the seat, put your name tag in and just take the job," and how crazy of an idea that was. And I went up there and did it, and he said by lunchtime, he's like, well, it looks like you want to work here. And next thing you know, I'm hired in doing that. And that man had a big influence and he's, you know, he was here just two, three weeks or three months ago for my promotion to, to, one star, right? And so we've stayed connected throughout our careers.

Or the guy that was at my next assignment, where, when I was called by AFPC to go teach at squadron officer (school), and I was going to get out because everyone told me if you go to teach, your career's over. It's going to flat line. No one goes anywhere if you do that. That's where we send people that we don't want doing whatever their job is. And, uh, you know, a fellow lieutenant of mine said – and I was getting a lot of that feedback from superiors and peers in the career field, in the aircraft maintenance career field – and he said, "Why are you listening to people that have never done the job you're about to do and then just give up your Air Force career because you're believing something that they don't even understand?" So I ended up going to Maxwell Air Force Base, taught squadron officer school, and it was a pivotal point in my career, which got me excited about training and education, which really drove years later my desire to come here when my boss asked me, what job do you want, and I said, the 82nd Training Wing.

Um, and so I think there's just been these pin, these points, and I can't really relate it to anyone. I can – I have a story about so many assignments where there's been something said or done where I could have gone left and went right instead because of the advice I had or a story that I heard that allowed me the opportunity to get to where I am today. And so no, no person in particular, but, uh, I think we're, we, we don't realize sometimes the impact that people have in our lives. And sometimes we just have to be patient and listen, and a good friend of mine, she says, sometimes you just need to listen to what – the universe has a plan for us. And the more you pull yourself away from the plan, the university drags you back into that plan, and sometimes you just have to have a little faith and trust and don't stop believing.

I love that. So this is that one question I was telling you about. Um, so this is from my daughter at, uh, the Air Force Academy. She said that students are really liking (Brig. Gen. Paul) Moga, and I was like, "Why? What's – what makes him so great as a leader?" And she said he told them that he would never make them do something he wouldn't be willing to do himself. And he would fully get into the trenches with them and do the things that he tells him to do, side by side.

So what is your get-in-the-trenches leadership trait that you would want other people to know about?

I think that's a great question. I think we gravitate to people that are willing to do the things that we say. So I talk about fitness a lot and so, you know, pretty soon we're going to be heading out – the chief and I – and we're going to be doing fit(ness), you know, PT in the morning with our AITs and our squadrons that are doing that, uh, because, you know, if we expect them to be fit, even at 17 to 20 something years old, even though I'm 49, you know, my goal is to beat as many of them around the track that I can. But, you know, if you don't set the image and the expectation of what you expect, then why should they. And while I'm not as fast as I used to be, certainly, I think they need to see us in the environment that they're in.

And I think, too, you know, regardless of what you see them doing, and you gotta, you gotta be willing to connect at their level. So often, you know, I walk in a room now and it's just the whole place freezes because of the position I hold and certainly the rank I have, which is bizarre to me, but I'm not seeing that from their perspective. And so I think, you know, the most important thing that you can do is you, you've gotta be able to connect with them on their level. I don't like bringing people into the office to have a conversation. I'd rather go out to where they're at and meet them in their world, uh, to do that. Um, but yeah, I think it's just being relatable because it's so easy to demand and expect things when you get to a certain position or rank. And I think the more that you're able to be with them in their space and understand what they're doing, they're more apt to then open up to you and share with you what's going on with them, you know, versus, um, you just tell them what to do or where to be in your, in your world.

You know, I can call anyone to the office I want and get a brief on anything that's going on in the wing. But that's really not going to help me find out what's really going on. That's why I love going around in the wing, and a lot of folks are just uncomfortable with it where I don't announce myself where I go. Like today, I showed up to one of the graduations that was happening down at one of the training squadrons and it had already occurred, you know, they had scheduled it earlier. And so I ended up talking to five Airmen that are about to graduate on Tuesday from their 41-day propulsion course and off to their bases. And I just got a lot of insights about who they were, the challenges that they were facing while they were here, and it actually helped me make a big decision that I was waiting to make because of some feedback they had given me. And so, yeah, I think it's just meeting people in their space. Uh, I think that's the best thing that you can do to be relatable, and certainly in his (Moga's) example that he's given them, that I'm not willing to have you do anything that I'm not willing to do.

And so certainly at the Academy, they're all watching you just like, like here in any training environment, they're watching those more than we're watching them. The example we set or don't set will affect how they think about not only the Air Force, but, you know, the, the efficacy of the leadership that we're bringing to what we do.

And so I'm just a big proponent of if, if you're going to tell someone to do something, then you better be willing to do it yourself. And I know there's a question on here talking about cannonballs or ...

Michelle Martin: We'll get to that. Yes, sir.

But you have to meet them in their space. You have to – you can't just tell them to do something because you've already done it. You've gotta be willing to do it with them. And I think that just builds trust. And if you don't have trust, then, uh, it takes, uh, it's, it's harder to lead.

Absolutely. So speaking of leadership, if you had to describe your leadership style in one word, what would it be and why?
So I'd say collaborative. I'm a big believer, and I learned this from many bosses growing up in the system where it's easy to tell people what to do and, you know, write things down and just have them go do it, but you have to get their buy-in along the way. And you're going to have the position and authority to tell people to do many things and write policies and procedures for them to follow when they're obligated to do it based on who you are and the position that you hold. But, they won't go the extra mile unless they feel part of the process.

So most recently, I put out an expectations letter and we spent a lot of time on that letter where it started as comments on my dry erase board over the first 90 days I was here. I discussed it with the group commanders and the chiefs before I submitted it. I sent it to all of them for editing. And they provided some really good edits. And I said hey, I just want to make sure you're all good with what we're about to do, because if you're not, you know, we have a weekly meeting in this room where we all talk about stuff in a very honest way, where I expect people to disagree with me in this room. And if they don't, then I'm like, well, this is your chance. And, you know, we're kind of in a place where you've got to, uh, let us know what's on your mind. And I think that helped out a lot in making that letter more relatable so now when they have to deliver it to their squadron commanders and squadron commanders deliver it to their, their teams, there's more buy-in, uh, to that.

And so it took longer, right? I mean, I had a lot of those things on my mind when I first, you know, within the first few weeks I got here, but I deliberately waited three months because it took that much time to really explain what I was thinking, get their opinions and adjust it because it's not just about what I want, it's what can we all do together? And so I think collaboration is the way to go. I mean, I get it. I know I'm the wing commander and I know I'm a one star general, but that and $3.50 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks nowadays. And so if you can't bring people along, then they'll do what you say, but that's it. And if you're going to have a highly performing organization, they have to embrace what you're saying so they take it to the next level and believe in why they're doing it, because if they don't, then it's just superficial. So I think collaboration is key.

So we were talking about cannonballs, so here's your cannonball question.

So you recently invited, uh, squadron commanders to the base swimming pool for a mentoring session, and specifically to talk about and do cannonballs. Explain the purpose of that session and how it fits into your style of leadership.

So each week, the chief and I have the opportunity to talk to the 250-300 Airmen that come in every week, and so I was trying to think when I first got here and did these sessions, what am I going to say to them that resonates, that they can remember versus just droning on for minutes or an hour, you know, to a group of folks that may not figure it out. So one of the first things I was trying to impact to them was, and something that I was trying to relate to back as a second lieutenant, so what did I wish that I heard that helped me frame what I was about to come into, certainly as a new lieutenant, but now as a new Airman as they are? And one of the things I've seen that, you know, overcomes a lot of lack of knowledge and technical competency is enthusiasm. And so as I was trying to find a metaphor or analogy, whatever you call it, I said a cannonball.

So a cannonball is exhilarating. It's a little scary because certainly at our age as squadron (and) group commanders, you know, we don't go to the pool every day and do cannonballs, right? I haven't done a cannonball since I was probably under 10 years old. Um, they're not perfect. There's no, like, prescribed way to do it. Um, but it's you. And when I described command to them, as I reflected upon being a squadron commander myself, I wanted them to have a little bit better experience than I did because I went into it as a very young major in a very big place. And my wing commander was scary. You know, he was just a scary dude. The only time he talked to you was if something was going wrong and staff meetings were a knife fight in there where squadron commanders would turn on each other to stay alive, and I'm like, if I ever get the chance to do this at the level of the wing, I would never want that to happen.

And so I wanted them to feel excited about the opportunity they have, because not all squadron commanders that are there will get the opportunity to be group commanders or wing commanders. This may be their only command opportunity. So if you get that one chance to do something, you should be all in and excited about doing it and do it your way. And a cannonball is everybody's way because as we – I reviewed the pictures that were taken, right; everyone did it differently. None of them were perfect, but everyone started to have fun.

And so I felt, um, that if I was going to build rapport with them, I had to do something that we all did together. Now, was I comfortable about doing a cannonball? Oh, heck no. Right? I hadn't done it in forever. It's not like I went to the pool to practice it. I'm like, I'm going to do this with them. You know, even some of them were a little, you know, we were all self-conscious because in the jobs we have, we don't have a lot of time to sunbathe or, you know, tone up at the gym. Right? So people are self-conscious about how they look, how they feel, and then they're at the pool with their wing commander to do something that they haven't done,  if at all, in a very long time, and so there was a lot of hesitation.

So we sat and talked about it first and then everyone went in individually and then we all did one together, and it's amazing to watch how the vibe of that room, per se, changed from the beginning of when we got there, till we were, in the end, just enjoying a conversation about what was on their minds and sharing some of the stuff that we were about to develop for the expectations letter because I shared it with them, too. I didn't want them to be surprised about what I was thinking. Um, and so I think for me, you know, it was to build rapport with them so they feel comfortable to talk to me because I don't need a squadron commander uncomfortable around me. I hate when people are uncomfortable around folks because of their position or their status. Not that you're casual and, and friends, but you should be comfortable to express yourself in a way that's meaningful and that, you know, shares whatever's on your mind. And so, if you build rapport and engender trust, if you have trust and this transparency, and – can you imagine if we were in an organization where everybody felt comfortable enough to say what was on their mind, whether good or bad on what was going on at any given day in their professional and personal lives? That is a powerful organization if you can get it to that level. But it has to start at the beginning by building rapport, and you do that by getting to know people, and part of it is to do something together in a common way – what can we do together?

And, I don't know where it came from. It came from some subconscious thought and I'm like, "cannonballs." We're going to the pool and we're going to –  even when it came out of my mouth in the meeting that we first said it, I'm like, I can't believe I just said that, but apparently we're going to do cannonballs now. And so we did it and I think it's a fun – and it's also ... plus in some of these things we do, we forget that we should be having fun. Uh, there's so many people that show up to work every day. They're not having fun. They do it because they got to pay the bills and they have an obligation to take care of someone, if not themselves, then their family. Why can't we have a little enjoyment and joy in what we do? And I think we had a little fun out there, at least that was the sense I got at the end. And so it was my way to break the ice with them, to, you know, get us to get to know each other in a common way. So it goes back to, you know, General Moga and I'm not going to do any – I'm not going to have you do anything that I'm not willing to do myself.

So it could have been like, "Hey, all the squadron commanders go to the pool, bond." Or I just sat on the side and watched all the squad commanders do cannonballs. Right? That's not, that's not building rapport or trust or transparency. And so that was the crazy reason. And, uh, I had never, I don't know where it came from. I have never done this before with any other group, but maybe it's because I was driving by the pool in the morning when I got here and I just saw it and wondered, "Man, maybe we should do that." And so we'll see what happens, right? But I think, I think it was worth the time and the effort to do it. And only time will tell as we continue to grow together as a team, as many of us are new this year; on how that's going to develop and what we're able to do. Not so much when things are going well, but how will that translate when stuff goes wrong and their willingness to talk about that in a way they won't feel judged or shamed; in a way because they made a mistake, their organization made a mistake, and now they've got to talk about it in a way that they don't feel comfortable. And so hopefully it just opens the door a little bit more to a relationship that I think we're owed each other to build.

Awesome. So we're going to get back to the fun part, so don't forget about that. We're going to get back to that, but we're going to get a little bit more serious now. So you've held several command positions during your career, including wing commander at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia. What did you learn as a wing commander then and will that affect how you lead here at Sheppard?
So I learned a lot in that job because up to that point, I had done stuff that was very tribal, you know, very aircraft maintenance. So aircraft maintenance squadron command, deputy command, uh, group command. And so it was all very familiar. Then you go into air base wing command, so you're running an installation, and the only thing that's even familiar to me at the time, because it was in the logistics realm, was logistics readiness squadron. Everything else was like I just landed on Mars.

And so I was not the smartest guy in the room anymore, even a hair on anything. So I had to listen a lot, ask a lot of questions, learn and accept that an organization that large would do a lot of awesome things on any given day, but there'll also be some things that would go south and not right and how would I deal with that now? Because I think as we, we know the stuff that in the world that we live in, we're a little more critical of when it goes wrong, because we feel we have some connection. And so then how do you connect the dots when something doesn't go right? And at that point you have to own it as the wing commander. You know, if one squadron screwed something up, for good or bad reason, when you talk to your boss, you're not throwing the squadron under the bus. You're like, this is my fault and I'll fix it.

So the best advice I got from a boss of mine when I was an operations officer in a maintenance squadron is sometimes you just need to take the F and own it. Even if it's not your F. Because if you don't, then we're not getting past to where the problem is and how to solve the problem. And so I learned that there, where there were a lot of things that were going to have to happen. I was going to have to own them and then figure out how to solve them and do it in a nonjudgmental way because the easy answer that we can tell ourselves is you should have known that. You're the expert in that area. How in the world did you let that go wrong? And as the person at the head of the organization, you could be very, um, imposing with that type of judgment and shame that you – and then what happens to that person as they try to fix and address the problem? Then they're just reacting instead of thinking through how do they do that better? So certainly understanding a large organizational dynamic was a big learning lesson for me, especially with 24,000 people on that base and 54 mission partners.

It was a complex environment that pleasing anyone on any given day was almost impossible. And so how do you try to make these right decisions that keep everything at a level that's running well, but also not blowing up one place to, you know, supercharge another place in any kind of situation.

The other thing that I learned that I took here goes back to the question you asked about, what's the one word that describes your leadership style, which is collaboration. So I was an O-6 wing commander with a bunch of O-6 group commanders. So the only thing that separated me from them was a positional title, not rank. And some of them actually were in longer, had served longer in the Air Force than I had. And so how do you then build a team with your peers when you're in charge? And so that was a challenge to figure out because I was always used to working in a hierarchal system where if I was in charge, I was the ranking person and then it falls very simply and neatly into this rank and org chart kind of thing, and now it was certainly – I had the positional authority, but they were all the same rank, and some of them, quite honestly, knew more than I did about the areas that I was overseeing, because they were the functional experts in it.

So every Tuesday morning, we went out for breakfast at the, at the golf course, and we just used that time to talk about what was going on without anyone else there. And I didn't realize this until we left, you know, two years later that they said that was the most important time we spent with you because you allowed us to get to know you. You got to know us. And we got to solve issues at our level and be honest about what was going on versus some of the stuff that happens when you get in a big room with a lot of people and it becomes more formal and less honest when you have – and once again, it's, it's coming to them. We all sat around a round table. There was no head of the table. We're just having breakfast and we're talking. And it was very emotional when we had that last breakfast. And I had made them all – so I got into some woodworking when I was there and I made them all these signs of a quote that I thought represented them and I gave it to each of them when I left, because we had a really good team.

And you know, when I, when I came here and I got promoted, um, that leadership team I had there, they all came out here for my promotion. So there was something there that we had built that, um, I don't know if it was, I don't know how it happened. It was, it was special, but it taught me a lot about connecting with people and this whole idea that I carry with me now about rapport, trust and transparency. Because if you can do that, um, you get to know people in a way that's so different that when, when things have to happen, they just move out and do things at a whole different level than if you just told them what to do versus working with them.

Now, all of this takes longer time, right? It's not a quicker solution to get to the answer, but I think in the end it builds a deeper relationship with the team that you have, and I think the results are better, um, for what you're doing. And so that's what I learned there, is how to manage a larger organization, you know, promote success, own failure, and then how to build a team of peers in a way that's deeply bonded so that we are all moving together, um, in one way that's continuous.

And so when I got here, that's one of the things I really prized was certainly building relationships with the vice and with the chief, which is that, you know, the command team, and then starting with the group commanders, and then certainly with the squadron commanders, you know, going to do cannonballs. And it takes time, right?

These, these tours are so short. Two years is so hard to build the relationships that you need to get to a highly effective organization considering all the other things that get in the way on any given day, where something just crazy happens.

And so I think that's what I learned. And it's the first time I've had a job, the exact same title job twice. I never had the opportunity to do something again. And so to get to do this again, it gave me so much perspective of things that I learned in that job – how to be a better installation commander for my mission partners. Because before, they were just –  they wanted this, they wanted that. And I just got so frustrated with them and I didn't realize that they had something that they needed to and I needed to be more open-minded to it. And so here, I've tried to do a better job with the 80th (Flying Training Wing) and certainly with the NCO Academy, uh, to build a rapport with them and understand what they needed as the service provider to them, which I would say I would have given myself a strong C in my last job, because I just didn't know what I didn't know. But I think in the end, it all comes down to relationships.

I love that. And I think that's going to lead into this next question. In your expectations memo to the leaders, you use the quote, "No one is as smart as all of us." Why did you include that quote and what message did you want to convey with that?
So that quote I got from my last boss, General Arnie Bunch, the commander of Air Force Materiel Command. He used that quote all time. Um, and he would be self, very self-deprecating, you know. He's one of a dozen four stars in the Air Force, from a dairy farm in Tennessee. Still has this southern Tennessee twang. And if you listen to him, you could be fooled into thinking he's not smart, but he was wicked smart. Probably the smartest guy in the room.

But what he realized is what decisions he was going to make and the things that were going to impact the command was not so much about how much he knew, it was how much he was going to listen to others. And he had so much humility as a four-star, which really he didn't have to because he had risen to the top level of Air Force leadership. And he used that quote all the time and, and he, he held himself to a very high standard of being a deep learner – and no one prepared for a meeting better than he did, uh, going into it. And he was just very humble in understanding that he was not the smartest guy in the room and he really needed to listen to other people if he was going to make the best decision for the organization.

And so when I was, you know, thinking about that first line I wrote in the letter about collaborating and connecting with other people, sometimes we get so caught in thinking we know the whole answer about even the organization we're in, and sometimes we just have to listen to others and be open to feedback. And some people see feedback as someone else is finding fault with them, where I find it more as a learning and growing opportunity. But we get very defensive sometimes.

And so, like I said, from him, from where he sat in the job and responsibility he had, he was very open-minded. He was very humble. Even though I still say he was the smartest guy in the room, he never came across as that. And I think that changed the dynamic and vibe in the room once they got used to him, and I got the privilege of watching him operate for two years.

Um, and so when I thought about, you know, what's the first thing I want to say from an expectations point of view, that quote came to my head because that was the one he used constantly; and I think it was genuine to him; and I think there was a lot of validity in how he interpreted it; and I, once again, it was a great idea and it was, it was something that he taught me that I felt, you know, was something worth sharing with the folks here.

So I'm going to skip past this next question. We'll go back to that. Um, but just because we're on this road here, um, you also mentioned in your memo that you expect everyone to have fun and enjoy coming to work. Um, why, why was that an important message to pass?
Because I've just known so many people for so many years, whether professionally in the Air Force or outside, that they just get caught in a job or a position out of the necessity of life and they're miserable. They're just totally miserable. And I can't imagine what it's like to come to work miserable every day and then you have to do something that's so hard and difficult and draining because our jobs are not easy.

And can you imagine if everyone comes to work happy every day and then found the passionate thing that they were meant to do. Oh, my gosh, the world would be an amazingly different place. And sometimes we just have to do things out of necessity. And have I loved all my jobs equally the same? Some have resonated with me more than others. But one thing I've noticed is that, where the task may be difficult and the job may not be easy, the relationships and the team building that you have in that organization really can make the most onerous things enjoyable. I've seen people that have had, had the toughest jobs in the world, but the joy that you see in the room when you walk in really makes you forget about how, how hard they had to work to accomplish whatever they did.

And I think sometimes we forget that because we're in the military, that we can't have fun. Because fun doesn't sound military. It sounds very whimsical. It sounds very careless. It doesn't sound serious. But I've found people, when they're having fun what they're doing, they lose track of what time it is. They're willing to work as long as it takes to get whatever it is done, because it's not work anymore. It's something that they genuinely enjoy and they put their heart and soul into it. And so if people can just relate a little bit more and find the joy in the moment that they're having, and if it's not what they're doing now, what is it that you want to do that can make you happy, and therefore have some fun?

There's a lot of science behind it. You know, you look at organizations that trudge through, that don't have good team dynamics or not. You know, uh, satisfaction surveys are not happy and those organizations don't end up being productive or successful. And so I think that's why I deliberately put that as the last thing on there because I want that to be the last thing they remember every day is that no matter how hard it is and the problems we have to solve, you've got to have some fun. And as commanders, as the letter was addressed to the commanders and staff directors, at that level, you're responsible for climate and culture, and within climate and culture comes fun.

My bosses told me, as I got into command jobs, they said, you're the OIC of fun because if it doesn't start with you, the likelihood of it permeating through the organization is unlikely. You have to set, once again, the example. If you're not willing to have fun, how do you expect other people to want to have fun? And it goes, you know, it goes back to the question your daughter kind of posed where, you know, if, if General Moga is not having fun at the Air Force Academy, how can you expect the cadets to enjoy the experience? Even though it's a very difficult experience, it's a growing experience, but that doesn't mean you can't have fun. I think so many times we're opposed to having fun because that makes it look like we're not working hard. I've seen a lot of hard working people have fun and the results that they are able to produce are amazing. And so I think that it's something we can't lose sight of.

So you had a lot of really cool things that you've talked about – having fun, um, transparency, um, working together. Um, so, every commander has a legacy. What is the legacy you'd like to leave when your time is over here? Um, if you could impact someone in the same way as all the people that you've kind of mentioned so far that have kind of walked alongside you as you've grown as a commander, um, what would be that thing that you'd want to stick with the other commanders here?
So another hard question, right? So it's certainly not a thing. You know, we could build a million buildings on this place, but I don't know if that's really legacy. Um, you know, we'll fix maybe students graduating on time and getting to their next assignment. That'll be a cool thing to do because we'll do better for the Air Force.

But I think in the end, you know, long after, you know, my uniform comes off and I retire, I'm just hoping that if someone sees me on the street, they're willing to say "hi" and have a conversation with me independent of whatever happened at whatever assignment, because hopefully I treated them with some decency and respect and I was approachable enough in uniform that they were comfortable enough to talk to me and share what was on their mind versus any particular thing. Things are static. You know, we can fix one thing today and it breaks tomorrow. We can build one thing today and it gets taken down tomorrow. Uh, so it's not about stuff. It's about the relationships, again, I think that you build and the willingness that people have to connect with one another. And certainly with the bosses I've had that I've resonated most with, I'm eager when I get the chance to see them – it's not an obligation that I feel I must say hi to them because they might recognize me and if I don't, it's some like social faux pas if I don't do it. And so for the folks that have made a difference, I'm, I'm really genuinely interested in still staying connected with them and getting to know them.

You know, one of my last, uh, he wasn't my direct boss, he was the D comm for AFMC. And so he had a great, you know – as many people in the morning, you'll say, "Hey, how was your day? How was your weekend?" And you say, good. And then the obligatory statement is over and you can move on and now everyone's felt that they've checked on each other. He would take it a step further. He'd say, "How was your weekend?" I'd be like, "Hey sir, it was great. What did you do?" And then he'd tell me what he did. And you just go back and forth in this dialogue. And we still text today, right? He may be our guest speaker for our annual awards banquet, so I hope the team gets to meet him and see what he's about.

Um, and so I think legacy is, you know, certainly in the general sense, leaving it better than you found it, but that's all situational. I think it's, uh, on any given day, when I leave this place and go do something else in my life, is someone willing to come up and have a conversation with me? Because hopefully I kept the door open for them, I was transparent in what I thought and told them what I believed, helped them achieve something that maybe they wanted to do if, if, and when it was possible. And so that we could just, you know, because when, when, you know, when we're out of uniform, when life is over, you know, what are you going to remember at the 11th hour? You're not going to remember the rank you attained, the job title you had. It's going to be the relationships that you have. And so I'm, I'm most excited, um, when I see people – you know, I just had the chance to go to Hill Air Force Base (in Utah) and visit one of our detachments down there, and there's a master sergeant down there that was a A1C crew chief of mine when I was a squadron commander at Osan Air Base, Korea. And I'm like, "Oh my God," and we connected just – it was like that. Because we ... there was a lot of stuff going on there at the time. It was a busy place. We had overlapped for one of the two years. And we just reminisced about stuff and it was a very natural, organic conversation that I don't think he felt obligated to have – at least, that was not my sense. So I'm hoping that in whatever I did there at the time, albeit not perfect of course, that he was still willing to connect as I was with him. And so I think that's the best thing that we can do is, uh, is, are we able to build connections with people that are sustaining?

Um, we talked about your expectation memo to the leaders here on Sheppard. Do you have any other expectations for the military and civilian, uh, Airmen, contractors and others contributing to the mission here?
Well, I mean, yeah, depending on the day and the circumstance. I mean, I, I guess my basic expectation is that when everyone crosses into the installation, right, and they get to do whatever their going to do, that they're passionate about what they're going to do, they want to contribute and make it better, and they're, and they're having fun while they're doing it. I mean, I could list a whole bunch of things that we need to fix or things I think we need to fix, but that's not going to change no matter who sits in the seat. It's really about getting people that are vested in whatever they've decided to do, because we spend most of our lives working. Right? I just want people to be excited when they cross the threshold of that.

You know, one of the things I've asked the defenders to do at the gate now is say, hey, no matter who goes through the gate, whether it's an A1C, one-star general, retiree, you know – good morning, good afternoon, good evening, sir or ma'am. Welcome to Team Sheppard. So I think a lot has to do with how we welcome them into the base, into our, our family business. And that sets the tone, uh, for what we do. I just want them to feel good about what they're, what they get to do. Feel like they're being supported in the work they're doing and that they have someone that they can reach out to and seek help from, because on any given day, we might have a professional or personal problem. And it just saddens me sometimes when I, when I sense or feel that people don't have anyone to reach out to. And so really it's just coming in, you know, all-in about what they're going to do. Once again, that they don't stop believing.

So it's funny, you mentioned that. I actually just noticed, uh, probably, I dunno, was it yesterday, maybe, that I was like, "Hey, every time I come in now, somebody says, 'Welcome to Team Sheppard.'" I actually smiled like it, it, it's working. So, uh, as we talk about Team Sheppard, um, moving on to this next question, in regards to your memo, what is one takeaway you want all of Team Sheppard to hold onto and to be your trademark?
Yeah, so it's corny, right? So it's funny when (2nd Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Michele) Edmondson came here, um, you know, I had never met her before, except for the change of command down in Keesler. So her and (2nd AF Command) Chief Adam Vizi came in, she was doing the base orientation immersion. So we're on the surrey and I'm like, okay, I got to build rapport with my boss. I got to figure out how to do this. And so that's where this whole "what's your favorite song" started to be, and it was fascinating as her, her team was on the bus and she, um, um, and then Chief Vizi – which, by the way, he's a Three Tenors and he starts singing Three Tenors on there, which you don't expect the PTAC P chief to do. So it's amazing what you learn from people, and she didn't answer the question until later on in the trip on what her favorite song was. And once again, a question that just came up because, um, you know, you have to think of the things that connect people along the way, and so what's one thing that we all do at some point in our lives? We listen to music and music has an effect on us, whether to make us feel happy when, when things aren't great or to get us excited when we're working out or a song that makes us remember a special time in our life.

And so for me, you know, I grew up, you know, I was a child of the 80s. Graduated high school in '90. And so a lot of 80s hair bands were full power there and I could name a whole host of them. But one that I really enjoyed and, you know, they had a great, a great song list, was Journey. And so, you know, I didn't even know the answer to the question that I was asking until I asked the question. Once again, one of these things, these random questions that came to my mind and I, I thought about it. And if you listen to that song, right – so that's why I have the book on my coffee table here.

So, you know, (Jonathan Cain) is the songwriter for Journey at the time and it speaks to one of their more classic hits, right, which, by the way, never got to like think over No. 6 on the Billboard Top 20. Um, but he was a struggling artist at the time and he was calling back to his dad because he needed money. He was, he wasn't sure if he was gonna make it. And his dad said don't stop believing. And so he wrote this in his notebook as he took notes as he was traveling around. Journey was about to finish one of their albums in 80-81, and they needed one more song for the track. And he says, I have something and it was "Don't Stop Believin'." That's such an iconic song, even though it was about two people meeting each other and it's a totally different connection, but it has – it resonates. I mean, if you sing, you can sing that song anywhere. It's a karaoke song. And as soon as you hear that piano intro, you know what that song's about.

And so I think it's really simple. I think in the world we live in today, there's so much strife. There's so much debate. There's so much, um, you know, partisanship and just sniping back and forth. And, and the one thing that we forget is we're all trying to do the best we can, and along the way, no matter what struggle you face or hardship that you reach, it goes back to don't stop believing. And it sounds corny, but it, you know, you got to think of things that resonate with people and it's gotta be something – and I could write a whole list of things, I could come up with a brand new quote that no one's ever said – but sometimes I think the most easy things that are right in front of you, the most simple statements that you can make.

And that's what I try to do every day is as frustrating as things can be in the jobs that we have, you can't stop believing, whether in yourself, in others, in what you're doing and what's possible for tomorrow. Right? And so that's why I keep the book on my coffee table and I end every meeting with, at, in the wing with don't stop believing. They all kind of giggle at me a little bit, right, or laugh at me, one or the other, I'm not sure. What I'm trying to, I'm trying to send a message.

Michelle Martin: Well, hopefully, if I'm still here for your change of command, we'll remember that and we'll play it. We'll send you off in a great way.

Yep. I'm sure I will use that line, um, when I leave. Like I said, it's a simple song written in the 80s that had nothing to do with military lifestyle. But I think when I hear that song, it makes me smile. And I don't know if there's too many people if I start playing that song, it doesn't make them a little bit happier than they were the moment before, for whatever reason, whether it's how they first learned it, you know, why they sing it with friends or family, or just because, you know, the 80s was a great time for music and they had good lyrics back then. And so I just, you know, once again, I go back to the first question that you asked, who is Lyle? He's a pretty simple guy. I don't find myself that complex. I'm just trying to do a little bit better every day, and if I can help people on that journey then, then all the better for it.

That's awesome. Okay. We're going to get to an obligatory question here. Um, and, uh, where was it? Uh, oh, here we go. No. 8. What is your philosophy on training, developing and inspiring today's Airmen for tomorrow's Air Force?
I think you have to help them understand why, you know. We all need our own personal why. But I think sometimes we're good at telling people what they should do, but not why. So in the world we live in today, you know, we ask a lot of, a lot of folks in there, you know, why did you join the military? And so they joined it for the educational benefits. They joined it for the opportunity to travel. They wanted a fresh start and just reset their life for whatever reason. But the why, from a national defense point of view, is, you know, our, our job as military members is to win our nation's wars and to ensure that the country has national security that is adequate to defend and support our allies. And so I think we need to help young folks understand that while there's some personal benefits to join the military – the travel, the education, the opportunity to get a pretty good paying job with some good benefits – you know, we serve something higher. I think sometimes we forget that.

And in the world we live in today, as they talk about strategic competition, you know, how do we understand our two most recent and most prevalent competitors out there, China and Russia, right? What are they about? What are they trying to do and really relate to what our Airmen need to do in the jobs they do every day, whether it's fixing, fixing an HVAC system, troubleshooting an aircraft, you know, fueling an aircraft or, or leading Airmen in those endeavors.

I think if you understand why you're doing what you're doing, then it's a lot better, and they're more engaged in the mission and committed to what we're doing. And I think sometimes we've – I grew up in a time where, you know, I grew up in a household – I had a Marine for a dad, you know, tell you something to do. Why? Because I said so, right? It was a very simple answer and a very unsatisfying answer. And, and that's how we grew up. So it worked fine and it was great.

But I think in the world we live today, we're a little more sophisticated than that, and so I think we need to take the extra time to explain why, you know.

Weird example. I was driving back here early on when I first got here and some Airmen were putting up the flags outside because we were having a, you know, DV come to visit. And so I stopped him. I said, "Hey, thanks, thanks for what you're doing." And I'm like, "Hey, why are you putting up the flags?" They were like, "We don't know. They just told us to put up flags." And so I spent like, like a minute to explain when we have a three-star or higher or a former 82nd or 80th commander come back, we do it to honor them, to respect them and to also show some custom and courtesy. Like, oh, right. And so maybe that, because that one group now knows that depending on how many times they had to take those flags up and down, they're a little more understanding and not just like, okay, I get the, get the bucket out, put up the flags, take the flags down.

So I think simple moments that we have with folks and explaining why. And so what's my philosophy of training? Explain why they're learning what they're learning. Help them understand the importance of how they fit in the, in the big picture, in the mission that we have to accomplish. And I think if they do that, they're more vested in what we do. More committed. And we should be – if we can't answer why, then I think there's a, we have a problem that we have to sort out as leaders in explaining the reasons why we're having them do whatever it is they're doing. There's a why to everything, but it takes time to explain it, to dissect, to answer questions. It gets long and frustrating, but when you do it, I think the product you get out at the end – the Airmen that we produce – is much better.

So last question. What is the final thing you want to say to Team Sheppard about your leadership style and expectations? And this is kind of a coverall questions. If, if we didn't cover something you want to say, a message you want to put out there, what is that?
When I was given the choice of what job I wanted as a brand new one star, I said, my first and only choice was the 82nd Training Wing. And so I'm excited to be here, genuinely. I was not forced to be here; coerced to be here. I was genuinely excited because my boss asked me a question that we should be asking people all the time. What is it that you want to do? And let's try to make that happen. And so I know how I feel everyday walking in. I'm excited, no matter how busy the calendar is or how crazy the schedule might get or what issue may arise.

And so I just want everyone coming in every day with that, that excitement. I want everyone to come in with that cannonball mentality that they're willing to jump in to the day.

You know, I think we wring our hands so often about decisions we make and whether or not it's the perfect decision. The right decision. I don't want to be held accountable if the decision goes wrong. So the, you know, the analogy I use, I'm like, I want you to run with scissors over your head. Take some risk, but be prudent in your risk and think about it for a second. I think we don't take enough risk. I just wish people would just move out and do something. A great statement that, uh, our former chief of staff for the Air Force made – General (David) Goldfein – was don't wait for me. Just move out. And I think if more people did that, we'd get more accomplished. But once again, it goes back to rapport, trust and transparency.

Um, in the, in the last statement that I think is even, even more prevalent today, uh, when we went to the wing commander conference and senior enlisted conference a few weeks ago, uh, our current chief of staff chief, uh, General Charles Q. Brown said, and he said it in his AFA speech, "I don't believe in impossible." What a powerful statement that is from our CEO of the Air Force, the highest ranking person, where he does not believe that anything is impossible. And if he doesn't, then none of us should. And so I just think there are some, some things that if we just gave people that perspective, um, I think there's no limit to what you can do in an organization. If people are vested, they feel valued and they don't stop believing.

Michelle Martin: Awesome, sir. Thank you so much for your time. That was fun. That was really fun.

All right.

Michelle Martin: Yeah. Thank you. Appreciate you.