Commentary: High reliability a vital leadership quality

Be passionate, make bold decisions, seek info and build trust

It’s an honor to serve our Air Force and beneficiaries here at Wright-Patterson Medical Center and be part of the 88th Surgical Operations Squadron leadership team.

The onset of COVID-19 demanded rapid organizational change to the way many of us accomplish our missions. Almost every aspect of our normal operations had to be adjusted. Our teams of Airmen excelled in transitioning to this new operational environment and were inspirational not only to those around them, but to other Air Force installations.

Reflecting back, there were many important leadership qualities which contributed to the success that we must carry forward to future challenges:


Leadership starts with honest-to-goodness caring about the personnel who serve with you. This has to come from the heart — you can’t fake it — and people can sense when someone truly cares about them and when they don’t.

Always make decisions with your people in mind, engage them for ideas and empower them to own processes along the way. Recognize their efforts, empathize with their concerns and help guide their decisions when sought, to best possible outcomes.

Bold decisions

Forging new paths requires difficult decisions. Don’t fear paths that might not have been taken yet. There is often more than one way to accomplish a goal. Leading change within an enterprise can sometimes seem like pushing an immovable object.

Leaders will encounter institutional norms, layers of bureaucracy you didn’t even know existed and many unforeseen issues. We may encounter all these obstacles along the way, but don’t let that deter from establishing the goal.

Continuous communication

If there is a clear way to making a wrong decision, it is making it in an information vacuum. This is true for all members of every unit. Information must flow both up and down the chain of command to ensure best possible outcomes.

Leaders need to make sure their vision and mission are clearly understood and seek consistent feedback from all unit personnel from their perspective.


This is built by the previous three qualities throughout the unit. Each one builds upon and strengthens the other. Do what you say you will do and build people up along the way. Step out and be the champion for your people and mission no matter what leadership level you may find yourself in.

These four qualities are vital to achieving success in a high-reliability organization. There are many more leadership qualities and characteristics people can draw upon to be successful; however, I feel it often circles back to these primary four.

As we all grow in our professions, be passionate, make bold decisions, seek information and build trust with those around you. You will achieve far more than you ever thought you could.

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