VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
After 23 years in the Air Force, the one thing that continues to amaze me is how different we are as members of the Air Force and how we make it all work. Given the military is only around one percent of the United States population, most civilians tend to think we are all pretty much the same type of people. Through my experiences I have found that nothing could be further from the truth.
I was raised in California, and unfortunately never had the opportunity to travel outside the western U.S. until I joined the Air Force. Reserve Officer Training Corps field training was my first long term interaction with individuals from outside my region and even today is a memorable experience. When I returned to my detachment from training and spent some time with my peers, I distinctly remember how completely different we all were. We had trouble agreeing on almost everything and the only thing we really had in common was the desire to serve in the Air Force. We were all from the same area, all raised in similar settings, but could not have been more different in the way we approached issues. Obviously leadership would be the key to getting things done, but I really thought it would be easier.
Upon entering active duty the differences only became more apparent, not less. Standards, regulations, and training helped focus and weed out the major differences, but personalities and style were always a huge obstacle, especially in my career field. Specifically, I was challenged with leading and integrating across a diverse work force of military, civilian, and various types of extremely technical contractors. I quickly realized that I could not treat everyone the same because it just didn’t work. Giving direct orders was hardly ever the right approach. Situational leadership seemed to be the answer, but knowing what makes a person tick and how to get them to understand and work towards a goal was never a simple task. A huge personal milestone for me was when I realized that you can’t change a person’s basic behavior. Understanding and accepting personality types is key. Exercises like those used in the Myers-Briggs model were extremely helpful because it is not always intuitive how a person perceives and reacts to others. Most of the time it came down to experience, trial and error, and measured patience.
Leveraging this understanding and developing motivation in order to accomplish the mission is the real key to leadership. For me the saving grace despite all of our differences has always been our common bond to serve our country. As a leader, consistently tapping into that bond isn’t always easy but you know it is always there. Certainly, getting there is always worth it. Despite our differences and decreasing resources I have always been amazed how we consistently come together to solve complex problems in order to make our country great. I wouldn’t change a thing.