Commentary: Seasons of change are inherent in leadership

As we enter this season of change and the anniversary of my first year as deputy director, I reflect on some of my experiences here at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, especially with those with leadership. Let’s just call these a few leadership lessons from some stellar Airmen leaders.

The stellar airmen I am referring to include Colonel Miller, the installation commander, Chief Master Sgt. Shaffer, the command chief, and Colonel Lyons, the medical group commander.

As these selfless leaders are departing this summer, I have little worry about how my assessments of them may be received. Although the last two years were very stressful as we adapted to a pandemic and new ways of accomplishing the mission, these folks still managed to put you first. Under normal conditions, people like you and I deal with our stressors and find ways to support the mission and impress our bosses via good ‘ol hard work.

Our leaders unintentionally laid on more stress during the pandemic with huge expectations to keep the mission going while our staffs were minimally manned and when some of our teammates may have been afraid to come to work. The aforementioned leaders didn’t just expect more of us, they pushed themselves to do more and suffered in silence, which may be similar to what a lot of us did.

During our morning virtual “Leadership Huddles,” I constantly heard “Our customers need,” “Our people need,” “How do we open more gates?,” “Are the CDC’s open?,” “How do we open more activities?” and “Are we taking care of our folks?” I observed leaders who displayed compassion and concern for the customers and the team.

I saw who developed day-to-day battle plans, who adjusted expectations, who showed the courage and top cover to be real with customers and stakeholders. I saw leaders who gave the “okay” for teammates to take a knee and catch a breath, leaders who absorbed the stress but never showed it.

I can recall a one-on-one with Colonel Miller and thinking to myself … “With all that’s going on, why is the wing commander taking time to tell me his expectations?” Well let me tell you why. As a leader, if you want commitment from your people, you have to demonstrate commitment to your people. I was just entering my season of change and here I am sitting down with the boss and he is telling me I matter and I have a voice on the leadership team and he expects me to use that voice.

In reality this uncomfortable conversation stayed with me and continues to impact my behaviors and actions. In my mind, what I heard was, “Here is my direction and feedback in an effort to help you be successful.”

Colonel Lyons speaks with more passion and care than any leader I have met. When he talks about the installation as a community, he sounds like a doctor discussing his patients as he truly cares for each and every one of you.

Chief Shaffer has no idea how awesome he is in terms of leading our enlisted core. He is a very humble and a down-to-earth chief who always put Airmen first and he is a living example of true grit.

It will be sad to see the Millers’, Shaffers’ and Lyons’ depart this summer, but it will be nice to know their impact and affect will carry on. We may forget what they said, we may forget what they did, but we will not forget how they made us feel.

Fare thee well my friends and be blessed in your new assignment as you were truly a blessing to team Wright Patt.

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