If you’re better to your Airmen, you’ll have better Airmen

  • Published
  • By Dr. Tom Tirey, Violence Prevention Integrator
  • 88th Air Base Wing

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio - Why does leadership have such great influence on Airmen resilience? It’s because leaders, through their actions, create and support an organization’s culture.

An organization’s culture can be seen as the “accepted values, principles and practices that an organization uses to solve problems and that the organization considers valid and is therefore taught to new members as the correct way to approach problems,” according to an excerpt in “The Culture of Military Organizations,” a book by Peter R. Mansoor and Williamson Murray.

Organizational culture is created by what leaders pay attention to, measure, how they respond to emergencies and organizational crisis, allocate scarce resources, and their deliberate role modeling, teaching and coaching. It is the leadership of an organization that establishes its culture.

For example, if a leader deliberately supports and practices resilience skills and models them to his or her Airmen, the modeling communicates resilience. Those skills are mirrored by the Airmen and become an important part of the organizational culture.

However, it’s not as simple as it may seem. To accomplish this, leaders need to acquire resilience skills associated with social and psychological fitness that impact their Airmen’s resilience effectively, such as emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence involves having self and social awareness, self-management and relationship management. The implication of EI for leaders is their moods and emotional behaviors matter.

But it is not as simple as knowing and evaluating their own moods. Leaders must also determine if they are in tune with the people in their organization, which is called resonance.

Today, research shows it is quite common that leaders do not have an awareness of how others interpret their emotions, which experts refer to as “CEO disease.” If a leader has a positive mood and emotions, this spreads to subordinates, potentially creating a less-stressful workplace. The opposite would be true of a leader with a negative or angry mood, producing a more stressful workplace.

The point is leaders must be aware of and manage their moods and those of others through emotional-intelligence skills, which build their own resilience and enable them to have a positive impact on the Airmen and personnel around them.

The good news is data suggests a majority of Air Force leaders exhibit behaviors associated with strengthening subordinate resilience. However, there are still significant numbers of immediate supervisors and unit senior leaders who are not engaged in their subordinates’ well-being. And they represent a significant challenge.

Evidence suggests that even one leader who uses threats, fear or intimidation can have an outsized impact and potentially contribute to the resilience challenges of an Airman who is already struggling.

If we are to embrace the “wingman culture” and be there for each other, it might be best to remind ourselves of an old saying I heard when I was young: “If you’re better to your neighbors, you’ll have better neighbors.”

For us, that would translate to: “If you’re better to your Airmen, you’ll have better Airmen.”