Not at 22

Swagger. You really don’t have it. No matter how much Old Spice you purchase. Not at 22.

When I was 22, I was convinced I was the absolute best US Air Force air weapons officer on the planet. I spent my time in the back of the E3 AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) aircraft, talking to fighter pilots and practicing air-to-air engagements against Soviet style tactics. Maverick/Tom Cruise from Top Gun? Pansy. I mean, I had a whole 200 hours in the AWACS…half of them as a student, with an instructor weapons officer overseeing my every move. I. Was. Awesome. Just ask me.

Fortunately for me, and the pilots and aircrews I would work with during my Air Force career, I learned to listen to experience. Real experience, from real combat officers who had “been there.” Whenever I get the chance, I pass along some of the best lessons from the folks who cared about me, both in the military and in corporate life:

  1. Leadership by example. Don’t ask others to do what you won’t do – whether it is deploying over the holidays, or completing the annual corporate compliance training. Folks watch what you do, and emulate you.
  2. Communications cadence. Listen intently to what the other party has to say. Digest their meaning, and then respond. It’s efficient, it’s effective, and it works to move the conversation along. Or put iron on target.
  3. Hard work never hurts in the long run. Yes, I know – work/life balance and all that. But when it’s crunch time – get in early, grab the task list, and just get it done.
  4. Look out for your people. Whether they are your troops, your direct reports, your boss, or your colleagues in the company, your well-being and future are tied to theirs. Look out for them, grow them, and everyone wins.
  5. Be humble. Probably the first lesson that my first supervisor taught me on a combat readiness check. “Yeah, you’re okay to go to Desert Shield. But don’t be stupid. You’re not as good as you think you are, and if you don’t keep your eyes open, you’ll get somebody killed.” Or something like that. His point was well taken – you can learn from everyone and everything. Be open to that.

Good lessons from good leaders.Too bad I didn’t know them and fully internalize them, especially number 5, fresh out of flying training! I. Was. Insufferable. And didn’t know it, or didn’t care. Don’t be that guy!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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