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Back to the Basics

  • Published
  • By Maj. Kenneth Bush
  • 90th Missile Security Forces Squadron commander
Warriors of the Mighty Ninety, our wing's mission demands we serve as leaders every moment of each day. In order to sustain a culture of strict compliance, we must remain focused on the small things, and never neglect basic standards. Active leaders enforce basic standards in order to build a culture within a flight, section, or unit. The most effective way to build culture is through observable leadership behavior. All Air Force personnel go through some sort of basic training, where we are taught the basic fundamental rules of being a disciplined Airman. From an airman basic just out of technical school, or a colonel holding a high leadership position, you should never lose sight of the importance of simple basic standards.

Every morning at 8 a.m., I have the honor of watching leaders in action as they enforce basic standards during a 90th Missile Security Forces Squadron guardmount. Guardmount is more than a security forces tradition; it is a methodical process to facilitate eyeball-to-eyeball leadership engagement. An open ranks inspection showcases basic enforcement of standards, and ensures every single Airman is mentally and physically prepared to carry out the mission. Everything from haircuts to weapons systems is closely inspected for compliance. You may ask yourself, why haircuts? If Airmen cannot meet basic grooming standards prior to posting, how can we have confidence that he or she can execute nuclear security with precision when no one is watching? A guardmount is more than one-way validation of compliance; it is compliance on display as mid-level leaders are front and center, amplifying motivation and energy that is contagious. Gen. George S. Patton once stated, "You cannot be disciplined in great things and undisciplined in small things. Brave, undisciplined men have no chance against the discipline and valor of other men." This is evident to the success of the mission in the missile complex. Operators, maintenance personnel, and defenders work together every day with the same basic core fundamentals to succeed, and it reflects with all the accolades the 90th Missile Wing earns on a routine basis.

Focusing on the basics, then locking in a culture of compliance through overt leadership is fundamental to everyday excellence. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower was once quoted as saying, "Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done, but getting them to do it because he or she wants to." A leader's attitude sets the tone for everyone and everything. A positive attitude is more than being optimistic all the time. It means enforcing even the most basic standards, then painting a clear picture of what success looks like because those standards were met or even exceeded. Remember, to maximize your Airmen's potential, close the loop and recognize success. A leader's duty is to keep Airmen hungry for success, because you have given them a taste. My flight leaders constantly praise our Airmen for their vehicle safety. Rain or shine, paved or gravel, defenders are on the road 24/7. I like to think their positive attitudes, despite less-than-perfect conditions, inspire a sense of pride in that success, a success which can be easily be taken for granted.

It is a simple concept. Focusing on the basics while showcasing leadership behavior every day creates the key ingredient to any unit's success - pride! We create sparks of pride by being active visible leaders. Every Airman's unwavering professionalism, positive attitude, and character should shine so bright, all who see it catch fire as well. One of college football's greatest coaches Lou Holtz once said "Without self-discipline, success is impossible, period." This goes hand in hand with our Air Force Core Value of Integrity First.

Airmen at every level and specialty believe in what they see in their leaders. When we lead out in front, we inspire without saying a single word. We should all ask ourselves, when I walk into my shop or office, does my dress and appearance inspire? When I participate in unit fitness, do I lead the fitness session and push myself to exceed the standards? Do I promote an institution versus an occupational culture by being an aggressive leader within the Rising 6, Top 3, or Company Grade Officer Association? We should do these things all while bringing our Airmen along. That is how we train our replacements. Simply put, when it comes to leadership, that is "basic."

It's what Airmen observe that inspires them. My fellow leaders, make the basics a priority every day, and lead with an energy and enthusiasm that is contagious. Give our replacements something tangible, something they can put their hands around and file away. I have often heard it said, "Do what is right even when no one is watching." However, we should never overlook the basics and should always strive to inspire a culture of compliance because our Airmen are always watching.

Our wing is filled with leaders who maximize potential daily, which is why our wing is able to collectively provide preeminent combat capability better than anyone else. I look forward to observing yet another "Big Missile" guardmount, where overt leadership is part of the everyday culture. That type of leadership behavior is not a snapshot in time or lighting in a bottle. Overt leadership of this kind occurs every day in every corner of the wing.

Remember, never allow the basics to take a back seat, and always strive to inspire our replacements to truly believe they are a part of something greater than themselves. Inspiring an Airman to do something they did not think they could do before they met you is a "basic" obligation of every leader. Huah!