Leadership Ideas, Information and News

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

When leaders earn their keep

By Col. Sean McKenna, Air Education and Training Command, Director of Public Affairs
Published September 22, 2014

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas (AFNS) -- It's no secret that a key to being a good leader, military or otherwise, is taking care of your people. I strongly believe Airmen aren't able to perform at their peak if their personal lives are in disarray. Whether financial woes, marital issues, illnesses or other troubles, it's tough to be at your best when life throws you a nasty curveball.

For leaders, the challenging times their Airmen face present golden opportunities to rise up and make lasting impacts. While it's relatively simple to care for people when things are good, it's those rare tough times when leaders truly earn their keep.

A few years back I was scheduled to travel from Colorado to Los Angeles for an Inspector General inspection, departing on a Sunday and returning the following weekend. However, the Saturday morning before my flight, my healthy 3-year-old daughter suffered a massive grand mal seizure while watching TV on our couch. The frightening incident required an immediate paramedic response, followed by a frantic ambulance trip to the nearest emergency room. Once our daughter was stabilized and out of immediate danger, my first phone call from the hospital was to my boss, a colonel.

I relayed to him what had happened and told him that doctors were considering keeping our daughter in the hospital overnight. I asked if he would consider approving a delay in my IG trip so I could stay with my family through the ordeal. Without hesitation, the colonel said my whole focus needed to be on my family, not to worry about the Temporary Duty , and he would notify my alternate that she would go on the inspection in my place. Immediately, I felt a ton of weight lifted off my shoulders.

Ninety minutes later, as my wife and I waited nervously in the ER receiving updates on our daughter's condition, my boss and his wife entered the room, wanting nothing more than to make sure our family was okay. I hadn't asked for them to come; didn't even think of it to be quite honest. He just knew instinctively, as a leader, this was the right thing to do. They had even had stopped off at the local Disney store and purchased a stuffed 'Tigger' animal so that our daughter would have something familiar to bring her comfort. My wife and I were floored by their kindness and generosity during our darkest hour.

I've never forgotten that day, first because of my daughter's life-threatening emergency [Note: she's now a healthy 14-year-old and still cherishes the Tigger ] and, just as much, because of my boss' selfless compassion. I learned a valuable lesson in leadership that day, one I know has made me a better leader. Several times since, I've drawn on his wonderful example of service before self to care for Airmen and their families. So next time life throws one of your Airmen a curve, step up with confidence and hit a homerun.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The mark of a leader: Aviano discusses 'servant leadership'

by Staff Sgt. Jessica Hines
31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

9/18/2014 - AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- Commanders, officers, chiefs and first sergeants came together for a leadership development seminar, Sept. 15, as part of a 3-hour lecture on servant leadership.

Taught by internationally recognized author, James Hunter, the seminar focused on practices and principles that encompass what it means to lead by the "neck up."

"The whole challenge of leadership is if you can get people from the neck up; can you get the hearts, minds, spirits, creativity and excellence of those around you," said Hunter. "That's what leadership is all about, if you can develop the skill to inspire and influence people to excellence."

With 35 years of experience, Hunter claims that his work is nothing new in the leadership department, but rather a tried and true model of a successful unit; whether it's a member's family, community or work environment.

"The principles of servant leadership are self-evident. This stuff has been around for centuries, everybody agrees with it," he said. "I'm not here to instruct you, I'm here to remind you.

"Everything you need to know, you already know," he explained to the full room Aviano's leadership team.

Hunter gave examples of how servant leaders influence the world around them by using their authority to inspire, rather than their power to order.

According to Hunter, historical figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa epitomized servant leadership by exercising their authority and relationships they worked to build with those around them. 

"Authority is built on service and sacrifice," he explained.

While some may point to differences between servant leadership and the rigid structure of the military chain of command, Hunter has delivered speeches to various military branches and units with much success.

Wanting to bring Hunter's expertise to a new era of Aviano leadership, Brig. Gen. Barre Seguin, 31st Fighter Wing commander, invited the leadership-guru to expand upon the principle of servant leadership to the wing's most senior personnel.

"I feel that it is my highest calling to ensure that I provide leadership development for those that are entrusted to my care," said Seguin, who's taken a hand-on approach to mentorship, just four months since taking command.

"This is the first of a series of leadership development sessions that I plan to do with this team," he added. "We're all here together so we can provide each other with mutual support to improve our own leadership skills, to the benefit of those we're entrusted to develop and care."

Of all Hunter's philosophies on servant leadership, he claims that the true mark of a leader is the ability to leave a group or community better than before and that people shouldn't wait for the opportunity to lead.

"Servant leadership is about being a servant right where you are," he said. "And then when you get to be the leader - you're ready; because once you're a leader, then it gets revealed who you really are."

Thursday, September 11, 2014

GW Sailor Recieves Lt. Cmdr Regina P. Mills Leadership Award

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Beverly J. Lesonik, USS George Washington Public Affairs

YOKOSUKA, Japan (NNS) -- A Sailor assigned to the U.S. Navy's forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) was awarded the 2014 Lt. Cmdr. Regina P. Mills Leadership Award, Aug. 10.

The Aviation Boatswain's Mate Association recognized Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) 2nd Class Brian Haynes, from Walterboro, South Carolina, as one of this year's recipient.

Since 2012, the award is presented annually to aviation boatswain's mates in honor of the first female aviation handler, who died when she was hit by a truck while assisting a state trooper with a motorcycle accident. Two junior enlisted aviation boatswain's mates are chosen annually, each from the Pacific and Atlantic fleets.

"The winners are chosen from among all of the Navy's second and third class petty officers who work as aviation boatswain's mates (handling, fueling and equipment)," said Haynes, a 2008 graduate of Colleton County High School.

The Mills award was created by the Aviation Boatswain's Mates Association (ABMA) in honor of Lt. Cmdr Mills and to recognize Sailors who show exemplary leadership.

Haynes was nominated by his chain of command based upon his record of sustained superior performance. According to his award package, Haynes' impeccable military bearing, demeanor, technical expertise and deckplate leadership have warranted his nomination from a field of exceptionally qualified candidates.

His chain of command also stated that Haynes is a hard working and extremely reliable Sailor whose attitude and willingness to perform tasks sets the standard for his peers to emulate.

"I just advise other Sailors to never quit," said Haynes. "Even when you feel like you are working hard and the work is unnoticed, you should keep going. Just make it through the tough times and know that someone is always watching. You might not get a 'good job' or a pat on the back right then and there, but you don't know what is brewing for you in the future."

George Washington and its embarked air wing, Carrier Air Wing 5, provide a combat ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interests of the U.S. and its allies and partners in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Eliminating stigma: A leadership responsibility

By Lt. Col. Chris Karns, Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs / Published September 02, 2014

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- As a child, a close relative of mine committed suicide. In those days, mental health was only discussed in hushed tones and little support was available. I was shaped by this experience and in my military career, I have tried to create an environment where people feel comfortable discussing their problems and supported in their efforts to seek professional help. In fact, I consider this to be leadership responsibility.

As a squadron commander, I felt part of leadership was knowing the Airmen and creating an environment of trust and support. As an Air War College student, I saw an opportunity to further research mental health and the increased role leadership and communication needs to play in defeating mental health stigma.

Recently, comic genius, renowned actor and USO veteran Robin Williams committed suicide. While this event was tragic, there are lessons to be learned. It helped people recognize that even some who seem to have it all struggle from time to time and need professional help.

Immediately after Williams’ death, a dialogue started. The related mental health dialogue needs to be sustained, especially in the military.

Since 2001, suicide rates across the Department of Defense have trended upward. Whether in the military or in society, there exists a need to overcome any perceived stigma associated with mental health treatment. The military culture celebrates and promotes strength and a warrior identity. To many, seeking help erroneously implies vulnerability. While the Air Force promotes help-seeking behavior, a perceived stigma associated with mental health treatment still exists.

Interestingly, in a 2011 Air Force study, a high percentage of Airmen responded that it would somewhat to absolutely impact their willingness to seek care if co-workers would look down on them. This signals there is still work to be done. Eliminating stigma requires dialogue, a continual leadership emphasis, and positive examples of those benefiting from treatment.

While September marks Suicide Prevention Month, attention and discussion on this important subject needs to extend beyond a designated month, especially in times of manpower reductions and when more is expected of Airmen and families. Leaders have a responsibility to actively recognize the stress being placed on Airmen and families and work to regularly understand and educate them on help-seeking programs and encourage help-seeking behavior.

While improvement has occurred in overcoming stigma, several studies still reflect concern over a perceived stigma associated with seeking mental health treatment. Potential force reductions and career uncertainty run the risk of deterring Airmen from seeking mental health services. Therefore, Air Force behavioral health advocacy, communications and educational campaigns implemented by leaders at all levels need to gain the necessary confidence of Airmen to lessen the stigma associated with mental health services and reinforce a culture of trust and support.

Statistically, mental health issues are more common than one may think. According to Harvard Health Publications, a national survey reported that “about 6 percent of employees experience symptoms of depression in any given year.” Moreover, Harvard medical experts claim that “anxiety disorders affect about 6 percent of the population at some point in life, but typically go undiagnosed for five to 10 years.” Considering stressors faced by the military, one can assume the percentage of service members suffering from depression is greater than the civil sector.

The leader’s communication role
While emphasizing the individual’s personal role and responsibility in resiliency is important, more needs to be done to develop an interactive approach to overcome stigma. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the leader to establish the right organizational culture and support to enable dialogue to occur. A leadership narrative that normalizes mental health treatment challenges needs to be developed.

According to congressional testimony, a large percentage of Air Force suicides involve relationship problems of some kind. Since relationships matter, leaders should strongly encourage family involvement in commander’s calls and help them understand mission demands and the Air Force’s support structure. Additional avenues of support can advance the discussion.

In an Air Force study, chaplains rated top marks from Airmen as a trusted source. As such, partnering with the chaplaincy can help as well as examples of Airmen and families overcoming a mental health issue. Stories about mental health treatment benefits need to be told. Leaders at all levels should take advantage of existing educational programs such as the Patriot Support Program’s anti-stigma campaign to aid their education efforts and efforts to defeat stigma.

Leadership messages
During times of uncertainty, mental health services should be actively communicated and encouraged. In a RAND Corporation study, perceived impact to career was listed as one of the top five barriers for neglecting to seek mental health care. Overcoming the stigma and career impact perception is the ultimate leadership challenge.

Peer group opinions and attitudes are another area requiring leadership focus. To defeat stigma, peer-group education is required to enhance acceptance and dispel myths. Multiple voices, especially by leadership, are required to dispel myths concerning career impact. Leaders also need to check, and if necessary, adjust their own attitudes toward Airmen seeking help.

In addition to the Air Force’s holistic approach to wellness, overcoming stigma should be a primary focus of commander’s calls and in Air Force education efforts. Consistently promoting or normalizing mental health services by commanders at all levels requires more than occasional statements that getting help should be considered a sign of character strength instead of a weakness. Stigma needs to be a stronger focus area as well as creating erroneous stereotypes.

Advocacy and engagement
The Army achieved success when retired Gen. Peter Chiarelli served as the vice chief of staff. For Chiarelli, the responsibility to defeat stigma was not merely positional, but also personal. He led a 15-month study on the subject and wrote a book on the issue. He provided an honest assessment of culture and “the lost art of leadership” as central to the issue. Where Chiarelli succeeded was in the number of soldiers willingly seeking care. He made progress toward normalizing treatment. He generated regular public dialogue on the subject. He made winning this battle personal. In turn, he was effective.

Real people who share stories of hope and recovery are required. Celebrate wounded warriors who may have benefitted from treatment. Have them lead the effort to generate dialogue in order to reduce stigma. Develop and brand mental health strength conditioning and performance enhancement programs. Similar to sports psychology, discuss mental health in the context of achieving one’s full potential. For instance, highly-selective organizations such as Air Force Special Operations Command have recognized the merit, permanently assigning psychologists within elite units to enhance the performance of Airmen. The relationship between mental health and Airmen can be more than crisis support.

Leaders can speak openly to Airmen and families through all communication channels. Social media stimulates dialogue, enables connections to be made, and helps those suffering understand they are not alone. People need to feel connected. Establish a network and database of people available to share stories and provide support. Focus on relationship issues, financial advice and stigma-busting stories of hope. Increase public stories of real Airman with real examples of discovery, recovery and success after receiving treatment. Airmen and families need to see other institutions that value strength seeking help. Discover what educational programs may exist within police departments, fire departments or even professional sports. Develop training specific to overcoming stigma, and ensure its integration at each level of professional military education and also within the DOD dependent school system. This will enhance Airman and family understanding, and reduce stigma for future generations.

When a percentage of Airmen still believe a stigma is attached to mental health services, seeking help becomes less of a choice and more of a perceived risk. Ultimately, success rests with leadership’s ability to expand communication, education, and ensures a culture of trust exists.

When people are comfortable, and they recognize the leader understands and cares for them, then stigma will decline. The time to end the mental health stigma is now. All leaders have a moral responsibility to get this right. Lives depend on it.