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September Chief's Concerns

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Witchek, from the 169th Fighter Wing's Command Post at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., June 17, 2014. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Edward Snyder/Released)

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Witchek, from the 169th Fighter Wing's Command Post at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., June 17, 2014. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Edward Snyder/Released)

MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. -- I am grateful to have my turn to share with you my "Chief's Concern" for this month. It is my hope that some positive benefit will come from these musings.

I want to start by requesting that you ask yourself a question before continuing.

Am I committed to following the Air Force Core Values of Integrity First, Service before Self and Excellence in all We Do?

If you cannot answer yes to that question you can quit reading now. This article is not for you.

I believe there is a very powerful skill that many of us Airmen never take the time to develop. If you don't adhere to the Air Force Core Values, it would be better for the organization that you do not possess this powerful skill. I am talking about "influence".
One of the greatest lessons I have learned in 35 years in the Air Force is the power of personal influence. People with influence get things done. Conversely, people lacking personal influence skills are much less able to make significant and positive impact on the organization.

When I was coming up in the Air Force, I  thought the best way to succeed was to have a great work ethic and learn to be the most skilled and knowledgeable person in my job that I could be. I personally detested the idea of influencing people to action by any other means than "it's the most logical and efficient..." I mistakenly lumped all attempts at influence together and labeled it "politicking" and I wanted no part in it. I felt my personal ethos would best serve the Air Force and my career.

I still believe skill, knowledge and work ethic are primary elements required to achieve our mission but I have since learned I neglected the equally critical element of "influence". By "influence" I mean having the in-depth skills required to influence those around you to positive action.

You may be the most skilled Airman in the unit. You may be so dedicated that you keep your phone turned on waiting to respond during the Carolina vs. Clemson game. Maybe you are so hard working the folks in your shop are always asking you to take a break so you stop making them look bad. Without "influence", everything you have to offer will only ever by multiplied by a factor of one. (i.e. 1 x 1 = 1. 1 x 1000 = 1000) You get the idea.

"Influence" is an important aspect of teamwork. Are you influencing other people on your team to positive action to achieve your common goal? Consider these famous quotes:

From Ecclesiastes in the Bible:
"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."

From Proverbs in the Bible:
"As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another."

From John Hancock:
"The greatest ability in business is to get along with others and to influence their actions."

I hope you will agree or at least will entertain the idea that "influence" is a primary skill needed to be an effective team player. Notice I did not say "leader". We may be in the role of leader attempting to win over our subordinates to follow our lead. Just as important, we may be in the role of follower trying to provide decision makers with the information required to make sound judgments on policy and resource allocation. Many times subordinates are the subject matter experts. Our leaders need that expertise to make important decisions. Your ability to "influence" can make or break the success of your unit.

Here is the take away. In the real world, whether it is your military or the civilian world, developing your skills to "influence" others to take positive action is a primary ability worth taking action to achieve.

There are many theories and strategies to sharpen your skills. They are deeply rooted in our Air Force training and can also be found in countless classes, seminars, books and articles. The point is to start working on it now! From an Airman right out of technical school, right up to a seasoned senior NCO or officer, you can become more valuable to the organization and enhance your career in the process by learning how to network with and positively "influence" others.

If you have observed someone with those skills, I challenge you to start now and "influence" them to mentor you in this area.