ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
During the holidays I spent some time reading the Air Force Inspector General’s report on the recent Racial Disparity Review. First of all, I want to thank every one of you who took the time to provide your input to make this review possible. More than 123,000 members of our Air Force family took the time to respond to the survey.
Everyone is a leader in some capacity, and as leaders we need to be both mentally and emotionally prepared to address our wingmen’s concerns about some of the findings in this report. Mental preparedness starts with doing the homework of reading the report and talking about it as leadership teams. When it comes to something this important, you don’t want to be like the student who didn’t do the reading and then gets called on by the teacher. Many of our Airmen opened up to talk about traumatic experiences in the hope that their leadership would take steps to make meaningful and lasting change.
As I thought more on the report, I was reminded of one of Colin Powell’s most referenced quotes on leadership: “Leadership is solving problems. The day the soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” This is an area where we have some work to do.
The report provided us with the “what,” but it did not reveal the “why.” Reasons behind racial disparity in our Air Force will be addressed in a follow-on report this summer as we continue to gather more information and analyze data.
However, it did highlight one problem that we as leaders need to address. That problem is one of trust. Reserve Citizen Airmen have to trust that their leadership will listen to their concerns and thoroughly address them. That may mean that we have to hear some things that are uncomfortable for us or contradict our own perceptions of the world.
Every one of us has blind spots. Leading an organization while believing you don’t have blind spots is like driving a car without using the mirrors: you may be able to get somewhere, but you’re going to make a lot of your fellow travelers very uncomfortable.
Learning about what makes us different doesn’t make us focus solely on our differences, but instead helps us appreciate what each person brings to the table. Use the mirrors in your life, those who view things from a different angle, to better understand how your actions affect those around you.
Over the years, my own mindset has changed. I’ve learned words matter. As I’ve learned and grown as a leader, I’ve learned to embrace change and accept the fact that today’s military is different than the one I enlisted in 31 years ago. Today we are better.
I’ve learned we must acknowledge our individual problems and shortcomings, as well as those within our organization. Problems are opportunities to lead. They provide an opportunity for us to present the best version of ourselves. If each of us commit to being the best version of ourselves, no challenge, obstacle or foe will be able to defeat us.
The boss and I eagerly look forward to being able to safely travel to see you in person. Until then, please feel free to share your thoughts, issues or concerns with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, it’s an honor and privilege serving as your command chief.