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Are you more than just a picture on the wall?

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Every senior leader, whether enlisted or an officer, has to get an official Air Force photo taken for placement in their unit's facilities. Normally, you are dressed in your service dress with all your ribbons, or what I like to call, "your resume on your chest and old glory behind you." The Public Affairs people have done some great work for me over the years with not a whole lot to work with, I have to add. Making me look like I'm dressed to impress and ready to lead the unit to success no matter what comes my way. But, in this case, the picture is not worth a thousand words; what you do as the leader the picture portrays is all up to you.

After commanding four times at the squadron level at four very different installations and missions, the one thing that I have taken with me after each assignment is the drive to get to know the members of the unit, their families and at least one thing that makes them tick.

It's not been easy and I know that I've failed to reach everyone, but not trying is much worse than not succeeding. Getting out and knowing your people can be a drain on your work load and your own family time... but, as a leader of men and women who have sworn an oath to lay down their lives for you and your family, why not spend the time on them? Let them get to know you and your family also. Share what you think is enough and appropriate. Let them know that you too have a family, a life outside of the office and that you are human just like them with possibly some of the same issues. They will grow from what you share and you may even take away a pearl of wisdom that will help you.

Watching or participating in unit activities is one way that I've been able to connect with the members of my units. Another way to connect is to find out what the members of the unit are doing. For instance, here at Vandenberg I have had the pleasure to take my wife to a play that featured a member of my unit. It was a great experience and I scored points with my wife too. Make sure you budget time for walk-a-rounds and be prepared for the late night call about one of your members being in the hospital. When that call comes, get out of your warm bed and go see that person. Command is not an easy thing and it shouldn't be. After doing it four times I will never find a more daunting or rewarding experience again.

Ask yourself this easy question, "Do you want your people to see you lead from the front, set and be a model of the standards because that is what you teach them?" Or, the leader that takes advantage of your position, because your picture is on the wall. Everyone knows that his or her time in command is limited and your picture will come off the wall, but will your positive or negative presence remain in the halls and work centers of your unit long after your photo comes down.

In closing, if you pay it forward and are there for your people, be sincere about it, and they will be there for your mission when you need them to give a little more. Don't take from them anything you're not willing to give back tenfold. Be more to the members of your unit than just a picture on the wall and you will be rewarded more than you could hope for.