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I don’t treat everyone the same…now let me explain

Graphic for Leadership Commentary Series

Graphic for Leadership Commentary Series

F. E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. --

I don’t treat everyone the same…now let me explain.  I do treat everyone with dignity and respect.  That’s whether you are an Airman 1st Class or a Lt. Col., the squadron’s commander’s support staff or the group commander, a government civilian employee or the UPS driver dropping off a package at building 1292.  What I’m getting at by saying “I don’t treat everyone the same” is that it’s in my job jar to find out what motivates people to succeed and accomplish the (our) mission.  As we all know, everyone is not motivated or driven by the same thing.  People react differently to the exact same phrases or words that are spoken to them.  My job as the OSS Commander and a leader in the Air Force is to find out what motivates and drives the personnel in the squadron as individuals – not military members, not female or male, officer or enlisted – but individuals. 

Squadrons are made up of people from all different backgrounds.  Some are from the country, some from the inner city; we have people from coast to coast.  The military does a great job in the early stages of a person’s military career when they get everyone on the same page by sharing a common bond of going through basic training or officer training school and becoming a part of the military.  Where we (leaders at all levels) come into play, whether that’s their first assignment or their sixth, a new base or a new squadron, is to integrate these individuals into the day to day life in their particular role.  For some, it’s an easy transition and for others it’s not.  What will happen, and this is a good thing by the way, is their true personality will eventually materialize.  This is when you get to know your folks and see what they respond well to and what they don’t respond to.  Like everything else, there are some do’s and don’ts as you will always be professional and respectful; but, there are many ways to get your message to the individuals.  I’ve had to get a specific squadron’s member’s attention by speaking very loudly and more direct than I usually do in a somewhat joking manner.  I could not imagine speaking to the squadron member’s replacement the same way and getting anywhere close to the same result as a simple please and thank you is all that is needed.

I have avoided using a one size fits all leadership approach my entire career.  What made me realize this is was when I would give my Personnel Reliability Program spirit and intent briefing to new members in the squadron as their PRP certifying official.  I would (and still) say, “not all members respond to different life events the same.  Some people may lose a family member and need to be brought down on PRP for a period of time.  Another member may have the same situation happen to them and they emotionally process the situation differently, and do not need to come down on PRP.”  This goes across the spectrum of events that can happen to people as they cope with things differently.  It made me realize that I don’t treat people the same as they are all different in their own way…again, people being different from one another is a good thing.

Knowing what motivates and drives people and what they can handle and not handle has never been more important for me than with the situation we are in today.  I know the wing has gone through a lot of changes since March, and we’re nowhere close with this pandemic being done; however, I know the Operations Group best, as that’s where I am, and we’re still right smack in the middle of this.  We’ve sent crew members and facility managers out to the field with an open ended return date at one point and we’ve continued to send folks out for a longer period of time than what people are “used” to.  Some just need a “thank you,” some don’t need anything at all and others need more.  I’m not saying I have this 100% down as I know I don’t, but knowing your folks and how they respond to things definitely helps in situations like a global pandemic that has taken over and changed everything we know.  For all of the folks who deploy to the field, I respect the hell out of you and thank you all for that you do!