Scott Air Force Base News

The lost art of being human

One night about 20 years ago I was standing on the couch in the living room of my college home, arms raised, looking down on about 100 of my closest friends jammed shoulder to shoulder, dancing to the very best 90’s music ever made.

It was perhaps the greatest party we had ever thrown and needless to say everyone was having a great time; until the beverages ran out.

As news of my serious miscalculation on just how much beer 100 college students could consume hit the crowd, the music stopped and the masses quickly transitioned to the next best option, the uptown social scene.

Why would I share this? Because, as most successful leaders will tell you, our failures and challenges often teach us more than our successes. Many leaders willingly share their professional failures with their subordinates. However, many of these same leaders rarely share their most personal ones. The reason for this is simple, professional failures are safe and personal ones seem to be fraught with danger.

At this point, I made an exceedingly poor decision which could have resulted in some serious negative ramifications. Fortunately, one of my closest friends (i.e. Wingman) spotted me and without hesitation physically intervened, literally saving me from making a potentially life altering decision.

Why would I share this? Because, as most successful leaders will tell you, our failures and challenges often teach us more than our successes. Many leaders willingly share their professional failures with their subordinates. However, many of these same leaders rarely share their most personal ones. The reason for this is simple, professional failures are safe and personal ones seem to be fraught with danger.

Unfortunately, it is the personal failures and challenges, the ones that we are most hesitant to share, that can be the most powerful and effective means to reach an audience and shape behavior.

Imagine if you will, two Commander’s Calls. In Commander’s Call A, the Commander presents a Power Point briefing about resiliency and relays a vignette about a troubled Airman that she aided following a suicide attempt.

In Commander’s Call B the commander does the exact same thing but instead tells a story about her brother who committed suicide when she was a teenager and how that experience shaped her life.

Be credible, be vulnerable and watch your capability soar. My Airmen already know the story at the beginning of this article. Do your Airmen know yours?

The impact is plain to see, but all too often leaders miss the opportunity to share the stories that matter. Don’t think you have a story that will resonate? You’re wrong. We all do, we are just afraid to share them because we are not comfortable with something called vulnerability.

By definition, vulnerability is being open to attack, harm or damage; all things a successful leader learns early in his or her career to avoid.

In general, military members often don’t like to stick out in a crowd.

We dress the same and speak the same; we read the same books and attend the same schools.

It’s no wonder we are hesitant to stand up in front of our Airmen and tell them about the personal experiences that have shaped us, the experiences that make us human.

Instead, we appear to our Airmen to have sprung from the womb as polished Field Grade Officers with master’s degrees and not a blemish to speak of. We assume telling everyone our favorite baseball team, the kind of soda we like and our favorite hobby checks the “I am one with my people” box.

Then we pat ourselves on the back for relating to our Airmen, maintaining good order and discipline and embodying the Air Force Core Values. Unfortunately, we rarely tell anyone about the times we didn’t measure up to the standards we enforce or embody the qualities we demand our Airmen possess.

As we strive to become a more diverse force, we neglect to celebrate the immense diversity we already hold. The diversity that comes from where we are from, our upbringing and our experiences. Ever hear an Airman say that their leaders can’t relate to them? Of course you have, because the longer we are in the Air Force the more identical we become and the more distant we appear to the Airmen that we lead.

As we strive to become a more diverse force, we neglect to celebrate the immense diversity we already hold. The diversity that comes from where we are from, our upbringing and our experiences.

Ever hear an Airman say that their leaders can’t relate to them? Of course you have, because the longer we are in the Air Force the more identical we become and the more distant we appear to the Airmen that we lead.

Fortunately, leaders can reverse that trend by sharing not only their professional failures and challenges, but their personal ones too, the ones that make us human.

Be credible, be vulnerable and watch your capability soar. My Airmen already know the story at the beginning of this article. Do your Airmen know yours?

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