An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Bold, Innovative and Intelligent Risk Takers

  • Published
  • By Maj. Sean Goode
  • 92nd Maintenance Squadron Commander
When Lt. Gen. Darren McDew visited Fairchild, I observed briefings by 92nd and 141st Airmen. A repeating theme caught my attention.

After Airman 1st Class Jessica Huckabee's Total Force Enterprise and Innovation briefing, the 18th Air Force commander asked how she became an Aircraft Generation Equipment Technician. She came in the Air Force to do something else. Her career field changed after enlistment. Yet, here she was wowing him with the successes of her flight and squadron.

Tech. Sgt. Gregory Kirchner, an Aircraft Metals Technology Craftsman, also briefed Lt. General McDew on the innovations from his section over the past year. The general was impressed with both the innovation and Tech. Sgt. Kirchner's presentation. The conversation went something like this (and I paraphrase):

"Tech. Sgt. Kirchner, how do we find Airmen like you?"

"I don't know, sir, I love what I do. I'm a doer, not a talker."

"How did you get into doing this kind of work?"

"Sir, by accident. I was disqualified from another career field, and the career classifier transcribed the wrong AFSC on my paperwork when I was re-assigned. So here I am."

Like so many people that join the Air Force, Airman 1st Class Huckabee and Tech. Sgt. Kirchner joined not knowing what they would ultimately be doing. They're not only at the top of their game, but they are doing something extraordinary. They're not just serving, they're showing the way!

But what makes our Airmen and their results extraordinary?

I spent the last few weeks trying to understand how our Airmen become extraordinary. What makes them bold, innovative, risk-taking Airman, particularly in the business of Aircraft Maintenance? We usually don't encourage risk taking while working on the airplane, because it is already an inherently dangerous and very tightly regulated business.

How do we cultivate an environment for bold, innovative and risk-taking Airman to thrive? It is what we do with the challenges we face. It is pure magic to most people, but to our Airmen, it is business as usual. It is a culture, empowerment and flow.

What makes bold, innovative risk takers, especially the type that can conform to military standards? Is it talent? It could be, but did we pick Tech. Sgt. Kirchner for his talent or for something else? Let's not underestimate the value of talent, but I think it is more than that. After picking through my leadership books and some of my favorite web sites, I came up with a list.

These are my top five characteristics of a successful, bold, innovative, risk-taking Airman:

Being there -- Woody Allen once said, "80 percent of success is showing up."

A willingness to serve and hit challenges head on. When called, ready, willing and well- trained Airmen step to the head of the line.

Curiosity -- An insatiable desire to understand. The ability to ask why not or what is wrong with this? How does it work or can it be improved? Who do I know that might have experienced this that can help me?

Creativity-- An ability to take an idea or problem and find a solution.

Persistence-- A willingness to stick with it when the problem and solution are tough. When others say it can't be done, bold Airmen affirm it can.

Resilience-- The innate ability to bounce back from failure, set-backs or other challenges. Risk-taking Airmen persevere.

Our job as trainers, supervisors and mentors is to give the Airmen that exhibit these traits room to take intelligent risks. When you don't see these traits, foster growth in these areas, ask questions, provide some guidance and create a little space for future bold, innovative risk takers to excel.

In my own personal experience, risk taking has become a way of life. At some point, I have to make a choice. I have to trust that I am making the right decision. Sometimes, it is a gesture as small as speaking up, by asking a question or showing another option based on my perspective. Other times, it is on a larger scale, like trying something new when someone tells me it can't be done. There are even times when I have to make a split second decision. I weigh the consequences as I act on my choice.

Failure is a reality of risk. If you don't try, you won't fail. But giving it a shot is what counts. You learn and you can try again.