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Leadership: True Internal Leadership for Stressful Times, an Example

Many readers of this blog are very much aware of the stresses and challenges in the current environment.

For this blog I take the opportunity to illustrate an example from my past that will illustrate what needs to be developed within a team to be ready for trying times. A key fact of this blog is how this is developed is different than how most view it and I will highlight a couple of things at the end. Let me offer the illustration.

Leadership: True Internal Leadership for Stressful Times, an Example
Leadership: True Internal Leadership for Stressful Times, an Example

Many know from our past interaction that during my Air Force career and after being designated as the Outstanding Graduate at F-4 Qualification Training, I was hand selected for perhaps the top Tactical Fighter Squadron; the 335 Tactical Fighter Squadron “Chiefs” of the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing. The “Chief’s” were steeped richly in history and at that time had won numerous awards including shooting down more enemy MiG fighters than any other unit in the world and had the title of “The World’s Leading MIG Killers” and also were the only fighter squadron in history to fly 100,000 hours of accident free flying which included combat time in Vietnam. I was honored to join them.

The Chief’s had a reputation for being a stand apart squadron. As such, while I was in the squadron, the higher command wanted to challenge our squadron to see what we could really do so they planned an Operational Readiness Challenge for our squadron alone. This is an exercise where we were fighting a war, and this included every aspect including Chemical Warfare operations and such. During the operations surge each crew flew three missions a day and 60 mission lines per day. However, there was one other challenge they included for us.

Just before they initiated the Warning Alarm to kick off the war, the Wing Commander ordered the Squadron Commander and the Head of Scheduling up to the 4TFW Wing Headquarters. When they walked into the room, the Wing Commander said “Gentlemen, have a seat…. you will sit this one out!” They wanted to see our success without the leadership.

My truthful Illustration today:

One my first mission of the war, one of my teeth was killing me with immense pain that would distract anyone. The changing pressure was causing immense pressure and pain. When we got back, I reported, and I rapidly went to the base dental facility.

When the dentist looked at it, he said “Well Captain, I can help you but if you take the Novocain, you will be off flying status for a day”. Without any delay, I told him to not numb it but just drill as necessary. It was not fun but after he was done, I raced back to the squadron and the Ops Officer, who was acting commander, was surprised when I told him I am ready to fly again. We only missed one flight. At the end of the exercise our success was highly lauded. With pride in his team, the Ops Officer went up on stage and could not speak high enough of the squadron’s success. I had no intention of this but while on stage he called me out by name and lauded what I did as an example of the Squadron’s commitment, synergy, success…and our TAG Line of “Chief’s Standards!”.

What made me unilaterally decide and choose that? It was not what many businesses think today. The only thing in my mind was my commitment to the team and mission completion and it was who I was deep down.

2 Key Points for you:

Point 1:

Simple point was that this was not something that just happened at the point of attack. It was something of who I was inside, and it had been developed in my journey. It was who I was.

Point 2:

Many businesses try to instill this by creating a video or PowerPoint and tell people about it. That doesn’t get it and in fact, undercuts what some may like. My choice was simply oriented in my complete belief of who we were as a unit and I wanted the Chiefs to blow them out of the water and I unilaterally chose accordingly.

The very key fact is simply that:

That level of commitment and belief was a key part of who we were as a unit and a team but also, this had been modelled and created and built long before it was needed.

True Leaders model this in themselves and lead and always develop this culture in their teams. The commanders did such a great job of this it was automatic in how we worked.

Does your team fully feel that they have your belief in them? In the current world virus challenge, one company that I know had to adjust, like most, but in doing so did it well. Executives took a 50% reduction while the people who were doing the work only took a 10% reduction.

In challenging times and right where you are, what do you need to do to facilitate such synergy and belief in your team?

Randy Swaim, Coaching for Relevance, LLC


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