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January Commander's Corner

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Akshai Gandhi, 169th Fighter Wing vice commander

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Akshai Gandhi, 169th Fighter Wing vice commander at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina Air National Guard, poses for his portrait, Jan. 2, 2014. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Caycee Watson)

MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. -- It is my sincere hope everyone enjoyed a well-deserved break over the holidays. As we look to the New Year, we'll soon face the reality of reducing resources--yes, we've already been dealing with that, but I think they'll get even tighter for the foreseeable future. Effectively using our very limited resources needs to be in the forefront of how we approach mission accomplishment.

The most important resource we have is our people. One of the most effective ways to utilize them is to value their time. Nobody appreciates being treated like a 5th grader, and folks will generally rise to meet the expectations set. The leadership's charge is to effectively set and communicate these expectations, and to recognize and develop the potential of our personnel. Our 18 and 19 year-old Airmen are not "kids," they are young military professionals who deserve to be respected as such. In fact, they are the future of our great organization.

Valuing our people's time is an active process. It takes critical thinking and planning. We are constantly challenged by higher headquarters to do a myriad of things not related to our primary assigned duties. While we cannot avoid these activities, we can certainly make sure we approach them smartly. Look at the task at hand, determine the desired results, and figure out the most effective way for the organization as a whole to get it done. In many cases, a little extra work on your part greatly simplifies the task for everyone else. This additional investment may actually save you an immense amount of time in follow-up. Taking time away from our folks' primary duties (especially during a UTA weekend) needs to be a purposeful and thought out act.

About 25 years ago, the Air Force made a deliberate move from regulations to instructions. The idea was to empower leaders to do the right thing to get the mission done as opposed to being paralyzed by a regulation which could not account for every situation. This is in no way a suggestion to ignore sound guidance, but it is every Airman's duty to make sure the guidance is truly sound and applies to the particular situation. Doing something because "that's the way we've always done it" in many cases isn't necessarily the right answer. Times change--what worked well yesterday may no longer be the best answer today. If something doesn't make sense, figure out what does make sense, and propose the solution to your boss.

It is incumbent on every supervisor--at every level--to challenge direction that does not effectively utilize our limited time and resources. I will leave you with three guiding principles once shared with me by a wise, old Command Chief ...

1. Do what's right, not what's fair. What appears to be the fair thing to do in many cases is not the right thing to do for the organization. As long as you are making the right decisions for the right reasons, I don't worry too much about precedent. It turns out there are very few identical situations.

2. Don't allow 90% of your time be wasted on the 10% causing the problems. The other 90 percent making the mission go rightly deserve your support and attention. It's an easy trap to fall into, because problems tend to be "in your face" and demand immediate attention. Make sure you're effectively allocating your time.

3. Leadership is "crock potted" not microwaved. Very few things happen overnight. It takes time and effort to build or become an effective leader. Don't just show your subordinates how to do your job, teach them the "why." Make sure they (and you) understand the background drivers which influence why you do things a particular way. At the same time learn the same from your boss. Expect mistakes and embrace them as opportunities to learn and grow. Take the time to find their root causes--you'll likely be surprised (and enlightened) by what you find. Realize you probably don't see the whole picture and never be afraid to ask why.

We work among smart, talented people. In almost every situation, those in the trenches have the solutions. Leaders have to be active listeners and carefully consider what our folks are telling us. This is precisely what the Chief of Staff of the Air Force has recently asked you to do. It's only whining if you fail to think critically about a problem and propose solutions.