WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- In this month’s AFMC Connect story on “Sharing,” Col. Patrick Miller, the 88th Air Base Wing and installation commander, introduced a series of questions answered by wing leaders to facilitate small-group conversations across Wright-Patterson Air Force Base as a way to better connect with each other.
This week, we continue the questions with other Air Force Materiel Command leaders:
- What is the book (or books) you have given most as a gift, and why? Alternatively, what are a few books that have greatly influenced your life?
Lt. Gen. Shaun Morris, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center commander –
I don’t really focus on specific books, I focus on reading. I read for entertainment, to escape, to learn and to challenge what I think I know. The most important book is the one you read.
Chief Master Sgt. Jamie Newman, AFLCMC senior enlisted leader –
The one book I most often give as a gift is “Ranger School: No Excuse Leadership” by Brace Barber. I feel it gives people insight into very arduous leadership situations that they will most likely never encounter, but absolutely could benefit from and a few other reasons that are personal in nature. I also love to give any book by Ryan Holiday, but it really depends on the person as to what I send.
One of my favorite books is Holiday’s “Ego is the Enemy.” Probably not the single-most influential book, but a MUST read for anyone aspiring to be a leader at any level. The book that has influenced my life the most is the Bible and the U.S. Army Ranger Handbook.
Chief Master Sgt. Sharma Haynes, 88th Comptroller Squadron senior enlisted leader –
“Chop Wood Carry Water: How to Fall in Love with the Process of Becoming Great” by Joshua Medcalf gave me perspective in my personal and professional life when I needed it the most. As with many leaders, there was a time I faced adversity, felt defeated and questioned if I wanted to stay in the military. This book helped me understand and overcome what I was going through at the time.
“The Infinite Game” by Simon Sinek is mentioned by many senior leaders, so I had to read it for myself. My biggest takeaway from this book is “thinking in terms of generations, not quarters.” More often than not, we get so wrapped around the axle metrics or achieving a goal that we lose sight of what’s next once that’s accomplished. I think we all find ourselves just trying to get through the day/week/month and we forget about the bigger picture.
“The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership” by James C. Hunter is the first book I read as I embarked upon my senior noncommissioned officer journey. It encouraged me to start a professional reading library. This book has been a staple in my journey, as I’ve adopted many of the lessons within my personal leadership style and it underscores the importance of how to take care of people and build strong relationships.
Chief Master Sgt. Benito “Tony” Hibbert, 88th Medical Group senior enlisted leader –
Books I like to share are: “Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun” by Wess Roberts and “Who Moved My Cheese” by Spencer Johnson. Both books talk about leveraging and managing change. In “Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun,” change was the vehicle for national and cultural progression, and in “Who Moved My Cheese,” it highlights the individual struggles of what I recognized in the book as leading through organizational change.
A few books that influenced my life are: “The Diary of Anne Frank” by Anne Frank, which I read in the ninth grade; “LeMay” by Warren Kozak, a good read about the life and challenges that formed a notable leader; and “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson, which had some insights on “encouraging” innovation.
- When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?
I work out.... it always helps.
When I feel unfocused, I take time to reflect; take a long run (two+ hours), hike or bike ride; or even just go for a walk with my wife. All those things help me stay centered.
I kick-start my focus by organizing the things within my control (my desk, books and calendar) and will usually work on a vehicle (two- or four-wheeled). I think solving an issue, whether simple or complex, resets my focus.
- We often talk about taking risk. What is the most important risk you took and why?
I think we sometimes get too focused on “big” risks. Every decision we make involves some degree of risk. As leaders, I think the most important risk we can take is to delegate those decisions as low as they can go… and being willing to accept the results.
I’ve taken many risks and they are all very important to me. I feel that taking a risk and jumping into the unknown, even if you fail, can be a very rewarding experience and one you will no doubt grow from. Joining the Air Force was full of risks, new challenges, tough schools and even tougher opportunities — all things that helped me grow. Also equal to risk is the risk of failing, not meeting my personal goals, and letting my family and friends down. All risk is all worth it!
My time in the Air Force has made me a chronic risk-taker because taking calculated and informed risks is an avenue for personal and team growth. But the most important risk I have taken is to be deliberately vulnerable with my home and work team. Consequently, to be transparent about my personal and professional weaknesses (this is not a part of my upbringing or culture).
- Building on risk, how has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure?”
My favorite failure is any one I learn from. I have a high tolerance for making mistakes, but a very low tolerance for making the same mistake twice.
Risk is a reward as long as you don’t let it be the thing that defines you or slows you down — learn, grow and fight for what you know is right. You will be successful.
I’ve failed often throughout my career, but I think it’s important to note that sometimes, the expectations of others are what we use to measure our own failures.
My first time eligible for senior master sergeant, I had multiple things going on. I had recently did a permanent change of duty station, my husband was active duty and we were both geographical bachelors for a couple of months — all while learning a new job. It was my first year eligible for senior master sergeant and everyone knew I was going to make it… I didn’t. I missed the cutoff by a point.
I was devastated at the results, but more upset at the fact that so many believed in me and I didn’t deliver. The perceived failure was the best thing that could’ve happened to me. I honed my craft and grew as a leader, and that “setback” shaped an even bigger comeback.
Once selected, I was in a much better position to take care of and grow more Airmen leaders. Not getting promoted when you think you deserve it can sometimes be a blessing in disguise — it was for me.
I have had many failures, but two stand out. The first is a personal failure: I was a senior in high school and was asked to wrestle a person 20 pounds above my weight class. To summarize, I was winning “convincingly” by points with a little more than 30 seconds left in the match — then I made the mistakes: 1) I was exhausted but still went for a pinning move (the move backfired and I ended up on my back) 2) With 11 seconds left in the match, I gave myself reasons to quit. I don’t remember all the reasons, but I remember today what the difference between 95% effort and all you’ve got feels like, and use that experience when faced with a challenge.
The second was when I was a technical sergeant and one of my Airmen pulled me aside to let me know how the poor relationship between myself and the ranking technical sergeant, the flight chief, was affecting our flight. Unbeknownst to us, our differences of opinions were evident to the Airmen, and they were struggling to figure out how to follow two technical sergeants they respected (but) were going in opposite directions.
I failed the Airmen because I was overly confident that I was doing the right things for the team, but I didn’t step back and see that I was a part of their problem. I didn’t think enough about their perspective; instead, I was focused on my areas of responsibility. The flight chief and I coordinated our efforts and built an “our Airmen” culture to correct the vector.
The lesson I learned helps me today to recognize when not being wrong doesn’t mean my initiative is the best for the situation, and often the team will know what it needs better than anyone else.
- What is an unusual habit or absurd thing that you love?
I have a Troy Aikman ornament that goes on the Christmas tree every year… yes, I live in the past.
As a hunter and avid bowhunter, I love to give back and take care of animals and feed and watch deer and other wildlife — it keeps me balanced.
My unusual habit is definitely humming. When I am in deep thought, focused on typing a message or in the zone, I’m usually humming. What’s absurd about it… I don’t hum tunes (or) songs. It’s just humming. My husband and kids find it incredibly annoying, but I can’t help it — I love to hum.
- If you could have a gigantic billboard with your favorite quote or leadership philosophy, what would it say and why? Are there any other quotes you think of often or live your life by?
“Who Dares Wins”… it’s the motto of the British Special Air Service.
I love almost all quotes by former Presidents Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln. Their insight in times of turbulence is an inspiration for all of us. They approached things with such calm, humility and had a way that made you want to follow them. They did not have all the answers and they knew it took a team, not one person on a hill making all the decisions alone and unafraid.
My favorite quotes are:
“The first duty of every leader is to create more leaders,” by retired Air Force Gen. W.L. Creech. I came across this quote while reading the book “American Generalship” by Edgar F. Puryear, and it resonated with me because I am passionate about elevating total force Airmen to their fullest potential, whether realized or not.
“It’s often the people who are the very best at what they do who feel the most inadequate,” by Dr. Daniel Charles, a character on TV’s “Chicago Med.” Yes, a lot can be said about the perfectionist. However, I think sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves to be the best and everyone around us reassures us we are “killing it,” yet we feel that we can do more or better.
“Everyone is passionate about something, but we aren’t all passionate about the same thing,” by Simon Sinek in “The Infinite Game.” As leaders, we must meet people where they are and “seek to understand” before passing judgment.
There is a quote that I heard my mother say so many times growing up that I unconsciously memorized it. It needs some gender-neutral language, but whenever difficult times are near or additional effort is needed, I can hear my mom say, “Heights of great men reached and kept were not attained through sudden flight but they, while their opponents slept, were upward toiling through the night.” I would put that on a billboard.
Another quote that sticks with me is from my eldest son, Greg. He told it to me when we struggled to establish cultures of accountability, his as the track team captain and mine as a senior enlisted leader. It is a revision of an anonymous quote with biblical roots. His version: “If teamwork is below you, then leading is above you.”
- What advice would you give to a smart, driven Airman — uniformed or non-uniformed — starting their Air Force journey? What advice should they ignore?
Be the best you can be today… and then tomorrow, try to be a little better. Ignore any advice that sets limits on what you can accomplish.
Advice I offer:
1. Presentation. Work on and improve it every day. How you think, act and speak all factor into who you are and how people see you. If you want to be at the top of your game, start here.
2. Performance. Get smart, learn all you can and then apply it to your daily job, and how you approach all things — raise that performance every day and become the expert, and you will never be far from success.
3. Consistency. Be consistent, find an approach to 1 and 2 and be consistent. You can’t come in one day fired up and motivated only to wilt away three months later. You have to find a pace and method for getting after it, but in a way you can sustain for the long haul and that your team(s) and leadership can count on. Being consistent is key.
Advice not to follow: If anyone tells you to do anything contrary to your family values or the Air Force values, you should probably tell them “no” and walk away.
Last shots: We need you at your best every day — being the best version of yourself, not hurt or behind bars because of a poor decision that conflicts with your or our values. You have our trust. Lead without fear and do what’s right, not what’s easy.
Advice I would give to driven Airmen is:
- Work hard — strive to become the functional expert.
- Always ask “why.” Don’t allow your rank/grade to be the barrier to professionally challenge the status quo.
- Seek opportunities where you can grow as a leader (through) volunteering, professional development organizations and other activities).
- “Leaders are readers”
- Surround yourself with positive people/energy.
- Don’t overthink it or get into your own head
Advice to ignore:
- Anyone saying you can’t do something because it’s too far-fetched or won’t be successful (for example, you won’t make technical sergeant the first time because “it’s the hardest rank”).
- Anyone saying you’re not good enough.
I would advise a driven Airman to seek out mentors (do not wait for a mentor or limit oneself to a single mentor). Whether it is someone a person learns from directly or indirectly, even if just by reading about their exploits, mentors are critical to the Air Force journey.
With many people of different backgrounds in our Air Force, picking which advice to take and which to ignore is difficult. However, there is one attitude that is not worth adding to the Air Force journey: the attitude or advice that suggests to not give one’s best or even try when things get difficult (like: don’t bother studying — you didn’t get a “promote now,” or we will never change that policy, so don’t even ask).
I revert to the lesson I learned on the wrestling team in high school: “Don’t give yourself reasons to not give 100% — the difference between 95% effort and 100% may be failure versus success.”
Don’t miss next week’s edition for the final set of leaders and answers.