Finding inspiration from the most unlikely places

Lt. Col. Cang Bui
88th Healthcare Operations Squadron Commander

Credit: Tech. Sgt. Anthony Nelson Jr

caption arrowCaption
Lt. Col. Cang Bui 88th Healthcare Operations Squadron Commander

Credit: Tech. Sgt. Anthony Nelson Jr

Where do you look for inspiration on leadership? Do you look up to your bosses or their bosses? How about your peers, fellow element and flight leadership, or fellow commanders? Do you pick up a book for inspiration?

Any of the above are great choices. In fact, the majority of my career, I’ve looked up, looked to my peers and definitely read a couple of books. All have given me something of value, inspired me and taught me how to lead better.

What’s interesting is that after 18 years of service and two commands, I moved away from looking at these typical places, and now more often, I look to my Airmen to find inspiration and teach me how to become a better leader.

I’m an “energy” guy. Energy comes in different forms, but it’s unmistaken when you see it. With a team of more than 500 staff, I’ve been lucky enough to experience this from many of our outstanding Airmen, but one in particular is Airman 1st Class Doyinsolu Oyinkansola, a medical technician.

Oyinkansola came to America from Nigeria when she was 5. She grew up in California and decided to join the Air Force at age 19. In less than a year, she’s already made a significant impact on the 88th Healthcare Operations Squadron.

Recently, Oyinkansola won the 88th Air Base Wing’s Dorm of the Quarter Award. It was presented to her by Col. Patrick Miller and Chief Master Sgt. Jason Shaffer, the wing and installation’s commander and command chief. What they said about how she won the award resonated with me.

“This one stood out,” the commander said, emphasizing the genuineness, love and passion Oyinkansola had shown during the dorm presentation.

Besides the obvious tidiness, she made her space a home away from home. It was real, and the energy I often see her exude really spoke volumes to the leadership that day.

Acts of substance, authenticity and passion make a world of difference. As a leader, I need to make sure my actions match the same energy, genuineness and passion Oyinkansola brings to our mission every day. As a commander, you often spend 14-hour days accomplishing daily tasks. A lot of that time is spent either in meetings or in front of the computer coordinating important correspondence. I often question these long days and if it matters to my Airmen.

COVID-19 has been relentless since March, and it has brought a lot of changes in the organization and the way we operate. One was how we socially interact with our Airmen. Electronic platforms are current substitutes, but they have limitations.

What Microsoft Teams and Zoom lacked, I found when walking around the facility presenting decorations, annual awards and recent promotions. The two hours I spent with my Airmen gave me all the energy I needed to tackle the growing challenges and tasks we face.

We got to share a moment with Staff Sgt. William Smith, a medical technician at the Internal Medicine Clinic, when he made technical sergeant on a supplemental board. His elation really made my day. We were also honored by an Air Force Commendation Medal with a combat device presented to Dr. (Maj.) Brian Murray, our Emergency Room physician. He did extraordinary things during his deployment.

Multiple annual winners and officer promotions led to multiple smiles, laughs and a sense of camaraderie you will never get through a computer screen or iPhone. The two hours I spent with my Airmen had more impact than any of the 14-hour days I had in the office, a hundred times over. It really helped me re-evaluate the way I want to lead.

Coronavirus really put a damper on 2020, but it also provided an environment for leaders you wouldn’t have suspected to step up.

Dr. (Lt. Col.) Thad Ocampo is the 88th Medical Group’s Allergy and Immunizations Clinic chief. He spends most of the day overseeing the clinic and treating patients. When the pandemic reached the gates of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, a leader was needed to oversee the installation’s response.

As the medical delay team chief, Ocampo’s name was called and he quickly rose to the challenge. Within four days, he stood up the COVID screening team and built a brand-new program to ensure all members were well trained in personal protective equipment to keep patients and staff safe.

When WPAFB was chosen as one of a handful of locations for an aerial point of embarkation, the doctor helped standardize testing protocol to ensure deploying Airmen are safe from COVID-19 before entering operational theaters. Now, he’s leading the execution of Operation Warp Speed on Wright-Patterson AFB to distribute the vaccine.

If there wasn’t a pandemic, would we have experienced this leader’s talent? Would we have recognized it? How many individuals like Ocampo are out there who we have not discovered? How many are lurking among us, waiting for an opportunity to lead? As leaders, are we doing enough to explore our Airmen’s talents?

These questions really had me going back to the drawing board. Leadership inspiration can come from many different places: your boss, supervisor’s bosses and peers; and leadership experts such as John Maxwell and Simon Sinek. You can learn a lot from watching and listening to these people. I surely have many times in the past.

But now, I’ve also turned attention to my Airmen. They not only became my source of inspiration, they have become my teachers as well.

About the Author