Be the example

  • Published
  • By Col. Scott Chambers
  • 75th Air Base Wing
Let's be honest with one another. Have you ever felt your responsibility for the minor daily nuisances and infractions you experience in your Air Force life are inversely proportional to your rank? Really beneath your level to take any action? 

Ever tempted to think that as a master sergeant, a captain, a colonel, or a senior airman, that you've got such important things to deal with that you've sort of unofficially "earned" the right not to concern yourself with the cigarette butts lining the sidewalk in front of your unit, the soda can in the middle of the running trail, or the sloppy uniform of a colleague? 

Tell me that the thought has never crossed your mind, and I'll tell you I don't believe you!
And it's not because we're slugs--we represent the finest fighting Air Force in the world. It's just human nature. We like to solve big problems--you know, the ones we can put into our officer and enlisted performance reports. We like to focus our attention on "important" actions and decisions and every single one of us is guilty of rationalizing away responsibility for peripheral issues from time to time. We've all been tempted to say or think, "that's not my job; that's not my responsibility." But, I challenge you to examine those words in a greater context. In an Air Force that's transitioning to a leaner, more agile fighting force, those are two phrases that need to be banished from our vernacular. 

Let's take me as an example. Say I decide to walk right past a piece of garbage tossed on the ground in front of the headquarters building. A seemingly benign indiscretion. No harm, no foul. I'm a wing commander, I don't have to pick up trash, and no one is going to make me...right? 

Right! Bet you thought I'd say "wrong," but you're right. No one is going to "make" me pick up the trash. That is not the issue at large. Nor is the fact that the garbage is still on the ground. The worst part of the entire situation is the fact that by ignoring the problem, I have condoned it, and in doing so, granted everyone who witnessed my neglect the right to the very same inaction. 

Let's take our scenario to the next level and add insult to injury? What if I head back to my office and ask one of my staff to go out and pick up that trash? It's a "solution" with worse ramifications than the problem itself.  I've not only demonstrated that the issue wasn't important enough for me to deal with, but I've also implied that that there are somehow echelons of personal responsibility that exist ... tiers of entitlement at which you can stop taking action. False and infectious! 

When you ignore a problem, you bless it. When you ask someone else to correct something you could easily rectify yourself, you breed cynicism. Leading by example isn't always glamorous. In fact, very often, it's the simplest gestures of goodwill that send the most profound messages to your Air Force team and family. 

It is absolutely your job and it is absolutely your responsibility not to turn a blind eye to the things that are wrong in our daily Air Force life. You fix them every hour of every day. Do not walk past a problem. Yes, we know everyone else might have, but you shouldn't. I challenge you to be remarkable by doing the right thing--always! Whether picking up trash, holding others responsible for their actions, providing critical, honest feedback to a subordinate or boss, or providing disciplinary action to someone who needs it. Do not walk by like everyone else--you take action and be the example. 

Don't give anyone else permission not to act. Whether it's picking up a cigarette butt, or throwing out a soda can, or giving a tactful reminder that the uniform is a reflection of our entire organization, go ahead and take action. The lesson you can teach by being the example is the best medicine possible--as said before, leadership is best seen!