By Lt. Col. Christopher Hamilton, 102nd Mission Support Group
/ Published February 08, 2013
OTIS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mass. -- This is my first article for the Seagull and I am deeply honored to be writing it as the new Mission Support Group Commander. As many of you may know, I spent the vast majority of my career in the Security Forces Squadron as both an enlisted member and as an officer. What I have been enjoying most about my new job is the broader perspective I am gaining while learning the details about what all of the other units do here at Otis. I could not be more impressed by what I am learning. I would like to use this space to introduce myself to all of you who may not know me and talk about my leadership perspective. Rather than give you a watered down version of my resume, I thought the best way to achieve this goal in this article would be to discuss some leadership axioms that I try (but don't always succeed) to use to guide my decisions.
"Lead by Example"
You cannot expect an organization to live up to very high standards if you yourself do not exemplify those same standards. Whether you like it or not, a senior leader lives in a fishbowl. You must always assume that every decision, every interaction, every move, is being observed and scrutinized by your people. While it may sound egotistical, you actually want your people to ask themselves this question: "what would the commander/chief/supervisor do?" If the answer to that question is "he would do the right thing" then you have begun to lay the groundwork for a very easy leadership tour.
"Familiarity Breeds Contempt"
My godfather, a World War II and Korean War veteran, used this phrase quite often. I never fully appreciated this concept until I became an officer. When a person in a leadership role appears to have a disproportionate familiarity/friendship with a subordinate, the natural human reaction of observers is an assumption of favoritism. This perceived favoritism breeds contempt among personnel and can eat away at the very fabric of a unit. A culture of favoritism whether real or imagined, leads one to the conclusion that "the fix is in" and the system is rigged. This perceived inequity can prevent people from achieving their best potential because from their perspective the outcome is predetermined. Obviously, this can have disastrous results for an organization.
"Practice What You Preach"
Nothing debases and discredits a leaders character more than demanding a certain level of conduct or performance and not demonstrating that same level yourself. While deployed, I served under a commander who was fond of the phrase "Nordstrom service", alluding to the legendary service at Nordstrom department stores. To the exasperation of all who worked with him, (especially his subordinate commanders) he rarely, if ever, provided that same level of service. This eventually led to a counterproductive discord in the command. Rather than serving as a motivational catch-phrase, "Nordstrom service" became a source of irritation and the subject of much ridicule. I firmly believe that holding oneself to the standards he expects those around him to live up to fosters an atmosphere of teamwork and accountability that will bode well for any organization.
Praise in Public, Criticize in Private
While there may be occasions where a public "dressing down" may be appropriate, I am hard pressed to think of any. In general, I have found that public executions are counter-productive and tend to debase the leader issuing them. Having witnessed numerous, and been the subject of several of these tirades myself, I can say that it did very little for my motivation (in fact, may have been a de-motivator) and made me less enthusiastic about the idea of giving this particular leader my best effort in the future. Take the time to counsel people in private ...they, and you, will be better for it.
Hold People Accountable
This is as much about the integrity of the "system" as it is about correcting the individual violator. If we do not hold people accountable and true to the rules and regulations we subscribe to, then the rules and regulations are meaningless. Moreover, what message does this send to the individual observer who strives every day to "play by the rules"? To be sure, this is an unpleasant part of your job and opportunities arise all too frequently. However, I am often consoled by the concept of redemption and have been pleasantly surprised by people who have "turned it around" after having previously been spoken to. The key, in my estimation, is to not let the infraction go unaddressed.
The 24 hour Rule
If at all possible, allow yourself 24 hours before reacting to a situation that boils your blood. I cannot exactly remember where I heard this advice, but someone much wiser than me provided it (better late than never) and it has served me well ever since. In my impetuous youth, I was quick to criticize and occasionally "fly off the handle" in reaction to some perceived injustice or infraction. This almost never ended well. By taking the time, you gain some perspective and can temper your response, if appropriate. This has proven to be especially poignant advice with responding to e-mail. Trust me...wait, you'll be glad you did.
I hope the above gives you some glimpse of "what I'm about". I have an open door policy and enjoy speaking to anyone, whether that person is in the Mission Support Group or not. My primary goal in my new job is to find ways to enhance how the Mission Support Group works together to enable the accomplishment of the mission. I am truly looking forward to working with all of you to keep our Mission Support Group at the head of the pack and better enabling our Wing to accomplish its missions.