Commentary by Jenna Fletcher
39th Air Base Wing
5/21/2013 - INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey (AFNS) -- Several
years ago, I had the opportunity to attend an Office Personnel
Management leadership academy. During three weeks of intense and quality
training, there was one story in particular from our instructor that
made a deep impression and has stuck with me after all of these years.
My instructor worked as a consultant in the business world. One time he
was asked to consult for a company that had one section with very low
morale. As soon as he walked into their office it was profoundly
obvious. Everything about the work environment made it clear this group
did not like their job, or each other. One of his first questions to the
group was, "What do you do here?"
"We order monkey food," was their reply.
Thinking perhaps this was industry jargon, he asked, "What do you mean, 'you order monkey food?' What does that mean?"
After longer conversations he learned that this group's entire purpose
was to order several different kinds of monkey food and coordinate its
delivery to a warehouse. They didn't know for whom they ordered it, and
they didn't know where it ended up.
To learn more, a field trip to the warehouse where the food was
delivered was organized. When the group arrived, they asked to speak
with the manager. When the consultant explained that the individuals
with him ordered all the monkey food in the warehouse, the manager
became interested and excited asking all kinds of questions, "Why do you
order so much monkey food? What is it for?"
And so, the consultant asked where the warehouse delivered the food. He
set up a second field trip for the office and the warehouse personnel.
They arrived at a large research laboratory and asked to speak to the
person in charge. When they were finally able to meet with the head of
research, the consultant explained he had with him the office
responsible for ordering the food and the personnel responsible for
storing and shipping it. The head of research became overcome with
emotion and insisted on shaking everybody's hand. After he had said
thank you a dozen times, the consultant asked him what they did at the
"We do AIDS research here," he answered, and went on to explain why they
needed so many different kinds of food and how vitally important the
food was to the overall research project.
The consultant reported that a few months later when he returned to the
office that ordered the monkey food, the changes were remarkable. The
office was cheerful and the staff was engaged with each other and their
work. There was a huge banner on the wall that said, "We help people
The moral of this story, which has stuck with me for over eight years,
is that people need to understand what they do and why they do it. Not
just the nuts and bolts, and the forms and software. Not just technical
data and schedules. Individuals need to understand the bigger mission
and how they fit into it.
Every machine, organism and organization is complex. Some parts you can
see plainly, and it is obvious what they do and why their contributions
are important. However, it is the obscure parts, the not readily
identifiable capacities, that you eventually recognize as crucially
important elements in making something work - in creating success. What
at first glance may seem mundane and inconsequential you find just as
essential as the higher visibility roles.
There is no job within the Air Force that is more important than any
other. There are no unnecessary Air Force specialties. Every unit,
individual -- whether officer, enlisted or civilian -- in every
organization has a critical role to play for Air Force victory.
Good leaders help their team understand their mission and their
contribution. Good leaders make why just as important as what and how.
Good leaders don't just lead by example, they lead by perspective.
How does your job ensure mission success?