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March Chief's Perspective

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Kenneth Smith, 169th Maintenance Operations Flight chief at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina, Feb. 10, 2021. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Lt. Col. James St. Clair, 169th Fighter Wing Public Affairs)

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Kenneth Smith, 169th Maintenance Operations Flight chief at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina, Feb. 10, 2021. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Lt. Col. James St. Clair, 169th Fighter Wing Public Affairs)

MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. --

As I sit down to prepare my thoughts for this article I cannot help but feel very humbled by recently becoming a newly minted chief master sergeant within the best organization top to bottom that I’ve ever been associated with. I have spent the last 34 years of my 36-year career as a proud Swamp Fox constantly standing in awe of just how much collectively has been achieved while our Airmen and families serve to protect our state and nation. I would like to give you my perspective on leadership, how I think we are doing currently, and where we are headed for the future. Leaders should work to constantly improve relationships, their interpersonal skills and how they influence the people who surround them. One way to become a great leader is to always keep learning new things. It keeps your mind sharp, your skills fresh. And it primes you for new challenges that may come your way down the line. In just the last few years on a daily basis, I have seen our current leadership from top to bottom engaged with our folks at every level expressing a true commitment to growing our team for the future and challenges that we will surely face. William Arthur Ward once said “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”  

In my early years, I grew up always involved with a variety of team sports primarily baseball. One essential aspect of team sports has always been the importance of depth with regard to each position to ensure there is someone ready to take the field or court to help the team to victory. Similarly to baseball, football or basketball teams, many businesses rely on a few “superstar” employees to really get things done. But just as the best coaches develop a strong bench of players ready to take the field when their star players can’t, the best leaders work to cultivate a bench of employees who are ready to move up to starring roles in the organization. Building a strong bench of employees is essential and increasingly important to success. Great coaches engage with athletes and inspire them: they inspire them to consistently prepare with passion and to realize their full potential. I feel that I have truly been blessed to have many good coaches and mentors throughout my life that have given me the ability to realize my full potential. One particular mentor in conversations caused me to come to realize how we tend to go through distinct phases in our careers. The first phase when we start is basically learning our chosen craft with gaining knowledge as our primary focus. The second phase of our career most often tends to be a broadening of our responsibilities and possibly taking on some entry-level supervisory skills. The last phase that I find myself and others in is the point at which we as leaders have the opportunity to give back to the organization and team and impart the lessons we have learned. We have the best opportunity to inspire and build a strong bench. Fundamentally we all should be working to train our replacements. Jack Welch summed this up by saying “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”

It probably wouldn’t be very hard to determine that I’m an “old school” kind of guy who simply believes there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction, which is why it has been quite refreshing recently seeing our leadership visiting shops and walking the line regularly. I recently read an article with a section about a coach that committed herself to taking extra time each day to meet with members of her team to just talk about the things that they were involved in like family, hobbies, pets anything but athletics. The coach had a simple philosophy about people, “Treat people the way I want to be treated.” Over the course of a season, the coach dramatically shifted her view of the members of her team by focusing on them as human beings and not just athletes which enabled a different approach to preparing them for competition. Result: Undefeated champions in their league.

I would like to sum things up by saying I am truly grateful for all the Airmen who forged the way for us to have the things we have currently and with eternal optimism I firmly believe our best days lie just ahead. Throughout the organization I see leaders with vision and an eye on the future working to inspire. I also see young Airmen who are eager to learn and get their opportunity to realize their full potential for success. Thanks to each and every one of you for all you do to make the Swamp Fox team the best!