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Send the right message about leadership

  • Published
  • By Maj. Brian Greania
  • 860th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander
"Too often, we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around." Leo Buscaglia.

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of serving as the wing executive officer for a highly regarded member of the Senior Executive Service.

Most civil servants are aware of the SES, but for the military members, an SES constitutes the top 1 percent of the total civil service workforce.

This particular SES held the military rank equivalent to a major general. I learned many lessons from this man, but most important of all was how to truly care about people.

As his exec, I had his day organized to the minute before he would arrive to start the day.

Inevitably, my plan would be shot after about 30 minutes. I was ready to bombard him with taskers, meeting prep actions, visit requests and signatures for the day. After I gave the nonchalant point to my wrist to indicate it was time to start, he would give me this smile, sip his coffee and continue his half-hour conversation with the cleaning lady. He knew her name, her daughter's name and many of the struggles she faced. All work was put on hold because he truly cared, was willing to listen and made a difference in this lady's life.

This was a daily activity with random cleaning ladies who I would end up having to work around. I admit, it was frustrating for me at the time because it led to an even longer day at the office. I learned how to be patient.

This SES's daily schedule was so hectic that I would have to coerce him to stop to eat lunch, which was now cold because I had picked it up two hours prior. Yet, he always seemed to have time to stop and chat with everyone, even as I attempted to be the fullback leading him down the halls to block traffic.

So what is our excuse? Why do our Airmen skip levels in the chain of command because they are uncomfortable talking to a supervisor, chief or commander?

Is it because they are unapproachable? Is it because they treat their co-workers like dirt? Do they think that they don't have time to waste in useless conversation? Maybe they just don't care or they are just here for the paycheck?

I can guarantee each of you, we all have Airmen in our squadrons who feel they have supervisors or co-workers who don't truly care about them. We walk by them and nod but don't say hi. We might say hi, but don't ask how their weekend was. We might ask how their weekend was and get the "it was good, sir/ma'am," but you never know what "it was good" translates into.

Maybe that Airman is having financial issues, has no friends and stayed in his dormitory room all weekend alone. Too often, we listen, but we do not engage in conversation. To anyone who wants to be a better wingman, friend or supervisor, simply invest time talking to Airmen on their turf. Everyone, from the new airman basic at First Term Airman Course to the wing commander who has 23 years of service needs to have someone who cares and to be their sounding board.

Take the time out of your busy day to walk, talk and listen to the people you work with. You never know what you may learn, or whose life you may impact. By simply getting out from behind your desk and engaging people in conversation, you send a powerful message to co-workers, friends and Airmen that you care.