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December Commander's Corner

Portrait of Lt. Col. Rita Witmire, the Deputy Commander of the 169th Mission Support Group.
(National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Caycee Watson/Released)

Portrait of Lt. Col. Rita Witmire, the Deputy Commander of the 169th Mission Support Group. (National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Caycee Watson/Released)

MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, South Carolina -- The late author of the coveted publication, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen R. Covey wrote, "All of us think we see the world as it is, when in reality, we see the world as we are." These words are affixed to the front cover of the FOUR LENSES 4-Temperment Discovery booklet used during many of our Yellow Ribbon events. These words by Dr. Covey, along with the discussions and activities that took place during a recent Yellow Ribbon event I attended, reminded me of the diverse nature of each person and of all the factors that contribute to who we are as individuals. It was demonstrated that everyone filters everything through their own paradigms. Although not the focus of the event, inadvertently, many of the principles conveyed in the seven habits publication were deliberated.

Seven Habits, first marketed as a business and self-help book, presents a sequential step-by-step, principle-centered framework for personal development. The concept of Paradigm Shift (a transformation, a sort of metamorphosis from one way of thinking to another) is introduced to help the reader understand that there exists a different perspective, a viewpoint that may be different from his own, and asserts that two people can see the same thing and yet differ with each other. Once the reader grasps this concept, the seven habits are introduced. Dr. Covey readily admitted that the seven habits principles he presented were not original thoughts or original ideas. He simply found a framework and a language to articulate the principles and embedded them into the seven habits.

Around this time you might be asking yourself, where are you going with this and what is the significance of all this Seven Habits talk to me as a military member? It's a valid question. To answer, I defer to the statement above which asserts that "two people can see the same thing and yet differ with each other." In this case, I don't "differ" as in disagree; however, I did examine the seven habits through a different set of lenses; not as a civilian, but as a member of the military.

Habit 1: Be Proactive - This habit shines a light on initiative; the ability to control one's environment, rather than have it control you. From a military standpoint, being proactive is about maintaining a ready posture. Although readiness means different things to different people, its underlying meaning is preparedness to perform the missions for which we are organized to perform. Readiness involves both professional preparedness i.e., being trained to execute your job, being fit-to-fight, etc., and personal preparedness, i.e., maintaining a Personal Action Inventory, keeping your family care plan up-to-date, etc.

Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind - Dr. Covey called this the habit of personal leadership and it is based on imagination - the ability to envision, to see the potential, to create with our minds what we cannot at present see with our eyes. This habit parallels the formulation of a vision. On the national level, the vision starts with the president and the development of the US National Security Strategy. This strategy is his outlook, his vision for the country; it sets the structure and process of decision-making, accounts for the competing interests and security challenges that impact the United States, its allies and partners on a global basis, and accentuate the instruments of power the United States has at its disposal in implementing the National Security Strategy. Each branch of the military, major commands, combatant commands, wings, squadrons, and flights, employs the vision outlined in this strategy to formulate a vision to meet their mission.

Habit 3:
Put First Things First - This habit is called the habit of personal management and is based on importance rather than urgency. This habit compliments our core values: Integrity First, the willingness to do what is right even when no one is looking, our moral compass, the inner voice; Service Before Self, where professional duties takes precedence over personal desires, and where the extraordinary task of defending the Constitution of the United States of America is magnified; and Excellence In All We Do, reminds us of what it takes to get the mission done, encourages us to strive for continual improvement in self and service, and inspires us to do our best in all things at all times.

Habit 4: Think Win-Win - This habit sees life as a cooperative arena which seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions. Many of us learn to base our self-worth on comparisons and competition. We think about succeeding in terms of someone failing--that is, if I win, you lose; or if you win, I lose. With this thinking, life becomes a zero-sum game. TEAMWORK is a fundamental lesson and is of vital importance in the military. In basic training, we learn not to focus on the first, the middle, or the last person to cross the finish line. We learn what matters is everyone crosses the finish line; no one gets left behind. Personal likes and dislikes become non-issues; I watch your back and you watch mine!

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood - This is Dr. Covey's habit of communication and uses the simple analogy "diagnose before you prescribe. Communication is one of life's most important skills. Our success depends in part on our ability to positively communicate and interact with others. Human nature leads us to seek first to be understood; we want to get your point across. Listening is an essential part of effective communication. When given an order, we must seek first to understand the order (listen) and then interpret the commander's intent (seek clarification if necessary) to galvanize the capacity to carry out the order.

Habit 6: Synergize - This is the habit of creative co-operation, the principle that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Valuing differences is what really drives synergy. I equate this to respect for self and others as professionals and as human beings. As professionals, we are bound by doctrine, orders, policies, regulations, and rules of engagement; we value and understand the importance of rules and operating within standards and guidance. We also operate under the premise that every individual possesses a fundamental worth as a human being, regardless of race, economics, ethnicity, religion or gender. Through value and respect for diversity we can accomplish so much more jointly than we are likely to accomplish without diversity.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw - This is the habit of self-renewal and continuous improvement. It focuses on four areas of your life: mind, body, spirit, and social. Sharpening techniques include exercise and nutrition (fit-to-fight), reading, planning and writing, (professional military education/career development course) service and empathy and commitment, (career airman) study and meditation (resiliency). By sharpening your saw you increase your capacity to produce and handle the challenges around you.

Although the habits seem very simple, to infuse them into your daily life requires constant thought and consistent practice. Practice may not lead to perfection; however, it can lead to habits that could produce fundamental changes that affect who you are. For as the Roman Stoic philosopher, Seneca so succinctly wrote:
Sow a thought, reap an action
Sow an action, reap a habit
Sow a habit, reap a character
Sow a character, reap a destiny