Will you be a dealer of hope, or despair?

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Kenneth Sallinger
  • 82nd Training Wing command chief master sergeant
There are few things we have control over as much as our words, gestures and outlook. They can be used to raise hope and also to reap fear and despair.

There is a common saying that hope is neither a plan nor meant for strategy. I disagree. As leaders, it is important to realize how hope - with preparation - becomes a powerful force and is instrumental in developing a strong foundation. In fact, there may be nothing more important than how we use this gift as made evident by Napolean Bonaparte in his description of how "A leader is a dealer in hope."

This thought became clearer as I drove to the Dallas/Fort Worth airport last Saturday and listened to a popular and longtime radio commentator as he brought his listeners into this New Year. For an hour, he painstakingly listed how the past 10 years were filled with trouble and blame. Undeniably, I agreed, it had been a difficult decade - for everyone. Certainly, though, he would end the episode with lessons for optimism and outlines for solutions ... wouldn't he? Regrettably - he never did.

In its place, he used his influence to forecast how listeners could tune in to a future empty in investment, little chance for success and void from hope. The once buoyant station host had become a dealer in fear and despair.

I pulled into the airport parking space, shut off the radio and sat for a moment. How sad. He no longer believes. Much worse, he was encouraging others to lose their faith as well. How fortunate we are, I thought, to serve our nation in the profession of arms.

As I walked through the airport, the announcer's comments made me think to one of my role models, now a retired Chief, and a subscriber of dealing hope for long term growth. Just a few days earlier, the Chief reached out to see how I was doing. It is important to know how the Chief began investing in me some years ago and was checking into their asset to see how things were progressing. At times, when I may not have believed in me, the Chief did.

During the conversation we talked about families, friends who died in combat and what my plans were for distributing additional equity back to the shareholders - our nation. We assured one another we would stay in touch at the end of our talk. As promised, the Chief sent me a follow up note. The second line stopped me in stride: "Your success is important to me - don't hesitate to call on me."

This one statement had a recharging effect transcending words where it gave me another boost of enthusiasm to take care of those things I needed to continue and invest in this next year - faith, family and service. Through the Chief's simple and powerful words, it was as if the "Y" in "your" faded and was replaced instead with "Our nation's success is important - we must work together."

Drifting from the Chief's e-mail, I thought of the U.S. Air Force Academy's recent success at the Armed Forces Bowl. Still fresh in my thoughts was how our Airmen attended en masse to support the cadets in their third attempt for the trophy. Their cheers blended with the roaring masses until, quite suddenly it seemed, the spectators poured out of the stadium to escape the bitter weather when it was clear the game's winner was decided.

Swiftly the arena was vacant - except for our Airmen and the cadets. In that moment, and in one unified and synchronized voice, our Airmen launched out a bellowing cheer of "Air Force!" Their liveliness reverberated through the stadium and the Air Force Cadets looked up in revelation and appreciatively returned the gesture by raising their helmets up high.

These foundational and mutual gestures for respect symbolize how we are resolved to one another - even during harsh and bitter conditions - by saying, "I'm your wingman and a dealer in hope. Our nation's success is important--we must work together. Don't hesitate to call on me."

Visions of the game and our future leaders heightened my consciousness as I worked my way through airport security and to the gate. Reflecting on how building leaders to become dealers in hope is central, I sat at the gate, blending in with travel-weary passengers who hung their heads in the monotony of post-holiday voyage.

Just then, something incredible happened.

A throng of uniformed Airmen, Sailors, Soldiers and Marines returning from holiday leave filled the gate area where I saw an unforgettable transformation unfold. Sitting in quiet and proud observation, I watched while a new-found buzz took hold, shifting the mood of the terminal. The passengers sat up straighter, smiled more broadly and provided heartfelt thanks and pats on the back in appreciation to our nation's warriors.

With each smile shined confidence. With each handshake there was trust. With each word there was promise. The weariness lifted and was replaced with a renewed energy. Our young leaders were dealing hope to those they serve. Their supporters gave it back two fold.

The lesson is to understand the power we bring into this New Year is the ability to use our influence and tune others into a prescribed leadership plan.

Providing a foundation for optimism will enable our skill to invest in others with our words, gestures and hope. By doing this, we will widen our collective aperture for increased success with a positive outlook for the future toward a strategy for prepared mission execution.

Prominent author Katherine Paterson said "Hope...is not a feeling; it is something you do." Instead of waiting for hope to happen or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, fear some unknown despair, be proactive as a leader and an Airman. After all, "yOur success is important to me - don't hesitate to call on me."