By Chaplain (Lt. Col.) David Berube, 102nd Intelligence Wing chaplain
/ Published October 31, 2013
OTIS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mass. -- I've been thinking lately about what it is that makes for success in human activity. What is it that is common to groups that have a positive impact on their world and contribute to making it safer, healthier, and more positive? Human groups are complex, of course, because humans are complex. Each group is unique and many factors contribute to the success or failure of each. And yet, for all groups, from military units to corporations to governments to clubs to families, I believe there are key elements that fuel success. Three that I find to be most critical are relationships, purpose, and movement.
I recently caught part of a documentary on Carl Yastrzemski. For those of you who didn't live Red Sox ancient history, Yaz was for years the undisputed master of left field at Fenway Park. He played the Green Monster like no one else and watching him was an almost mystical experience. Yaz talked about his years in the Fenway outfield, and the edges, angles, rivets, and other quirks of that unique baseball surface. Listening to him, it was like he was describing a relationship with a teammate, rather than technique for playing the wall. I thought about how much more critical strong relationships between people in an organization are to success.
Strong relationships between people require us to care about each other in deep ways - to have and demonstrate real concern for the lives and welfare of those with whom we share our lives. Whether at home, work, or in our communities, we need relationships that are grounded in empathy and genuine concern. We need to care deeply for the wellbeing and individual success of those around us. And when we do, it contributes to the success of us all.
A sense of purpose is also at the core of successful groups. Purpose is more than a job description or task list. It is a shared driving force that propels the group, and its individual members, forward. Purpose is the overriding mission; the undergirding reason for being that keeps us focused and motivated, regardless of what goes on around us. Purpose keeps us moving forward even when we encounter roadblocks of limited resources, difficult mandates, or even hostile attacks.
I've read several descriptions of life in captivity by former American POWs. Inevitably, at the heart of their survival was a sense of purpose - mutual support, reminding each other they were not alone, communicating care, keeping faith with each other and the nation. Our comrades were able to face incredible conditions, demoralizing treatment, and excruciating torture because of a shared purpose. Purpose can, literally, keep a group alive.
Movement is another critical factor for success. Momentum also keeps us alive.
My family lived on a hill in the country when I was learning to drive. Part of the training was getting our rear-wheel-drive car home during a snowstorm. A critical piece of that process was momentum. I had to get the right amount of speed to keep the car moving up hill, yet stay in control. Too little momentum and I had to back down and start again. Too much and I wound up sideways in the road, or in a neighbor's yard.
Successful human groups are constantly moving forward. They are always looking to the goal, the horizon, the end game. Successful groups see what can be or will be, even while living in the middle of what is. In my experience, one key problem of groups that get in trouble and fail is a lack of future focus and momentum. When I've interviewed groups that were in trouble one of the major issues I found consistently was both individuals and the group were stuck in present (or worse, past) problems. Maintaining the hope of a focus on the future helps keep groups healthy and successful.
Our nation is facing some challenges as I write these thoughts. Our current budget situation has real ramifications for us and our families. Yet, in the midst of that, I believe we will not only survive, but thrive. The 102d has always been a successful organization, full of successful people, because we have maintained a handle on key elements like relationships, purpose, and movement, especially during times of challenge. As we ride through these challenging days let's focus even more intentionally on those keys so that we will come out of this stronger, healthier, and even more successful.