Lessons from a chief|
Commentary by Col. Mark S. Danigole
380th Air Expeditionary Wing Vice Commander
11/26/2010 - SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Several years ago I traveled to Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. to attend the First Sergeants School graduation of a co-worker. Little did I know, but this two-day trip would have a profound impact on me and on the way I approach life.
My trip started out as you would expect, with crowded airports full of busy people. I arrived at my connection in Atlanta, and settled into my window seat. The gentleman seated next to me seemed nice enough, but I didn't introduce myself because I was exhausted from an early wake-up, and planned to sleep the entire two-hour flight.
I awakened on final descent into Montgomery when the flight attendant announced our arrival. I wiped the sleep from my eyes and noticed the gentleman seated next to me was awake. He introduced himself as Sam Parish. At first this didn't mean much to me, but in the course of our brief introduction I asked what it was he did. He said he was retired, but had once been the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force...and thus, my first lesson.
I wasted two hours sleeping next to a living legend. I missed an amazing opportunity to discuss our Air Force with Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force #8, Chief Sam E. Parish. I truly regret this missed opportunity. And, I also learned to keep my eyes open for potential opportunities. This would not be the last time I would see Chief Parish during this trip. You see, the chief was the guest speaker at that night's graduation ceremony.
That evening, Chief Parish would provide me with three simple principles around which I would later model my leadership style. In the course of his speech, Chief Parish offered these three words: LEADERSHIP, COMMITMENT, INVOLVEMENT. The following is my interpretation of his words.
Leadership is not something bestowed upon an individual because of rank, position or experience. Leadership also does not bypass an individual because they are young or just starting a career. Leadership is a quality each and every one of us can, and must, exhibit every day. From the lowest ranking Airman to the highest ranking general, we are all confronted with challenges. For our Air Force to remain the best in the world, leadership must exist at all levels. Standards must be enforced. Leadership in any unit cannot be left solely to the individual with the title of commander; it must be embraced by every member of the unit.
The chief's second principal was commitment. In order to be effective, a leader must show his commitment to his people and their needs. At the same time, personnel at all levels must be committed to a common organizational vision. A leader committed to his people will find a people committed to his leadership. This two-way commitment invigorates the unit as a whole and allows the organization to flourish.
Finally, Chief Parish tied it all together. Leadership and commitment are contingent on involvement. Attend social events and meetings. Know who your people are and what inspires them. Develop a bond beyond the minimum needed to function. That is involvement. If a leader at any level fails to become involved, they fail.
Two days, two lessons. My trip to Maxwell was surely not a waste. I will never forget the lessons taught by Chief Parish. Opportunity does not walk up and announce itself. I will keep my eyes open for new opportunities. I encourage you to do the same.