Follow through -- finish the job

  • Published
  • By Col. Jeffrey Flewelling
  • 21st Space Wing vice commander
Hello Knights. Last time I spoke to you about leading through change. The principles I described were long enduring facets of leadership: Lead the Way, Enforce Standards and Know Your People. Today I'll review another facet of both leadership and followership, in fact a facet of military life -- finish!

Across the wing many of our units are working hard developing new techniques, tactics and procedures. Every week Airmen take on new projects, tackle tough challenges and innovate along the way. What is amazing is our Knights do this under demanding circumstances working with constrained budgets, limited manpower and a high ops tempo. What we need to remind ourselves is that all of these new efforts, all of this work requires consistent follow through. In order to achieve success we need to finish the job.

A couple of weeks ago the wing commander discussed thinking inside the box. In his commentary he reminded us all to "Do what the boss asks." He observed that while the phrase is easy, it's surprisingly hard for many to execute. Of course "doing what the boss asks" implies that you will accomplish the request. To get the task done for the boss you need to follow through on your pledge.

We all have great ideas and, like many, I'm sure you can remember a project you started but didn't finish (my garage is still not clean)'s that follow through that separates the doers from the dreamers. Why don't we consistently finish? Distractions, new tasks and new priorities all play a part in not delivering the final product. To maintain consistent follow through we just need to remember three important ingredients: 1. persistence, 2. a sense of urgency and 3. ownership.

First, in order to finish the job you need to be persistent (you need to stay on task). There is a huge "doggedness" quality to persistence; like a pack of wolves, persistent Airmen take on the project and run it down. If you don't get the item or answer you need you have to stay with it. Don't settle for any answer other than what is required. Every day, a persistent Airman works on the project, follows up on open tasks and communicates clearly with others.

In fact let's take a moment to specifically discuss communication with regard to persistence. How many times have we sent emails or phone calls to a leader or peer only to consider that project or suspense complete? Weeks later at some meeting the answer the boss gets from the sender in response to a request for a status update is "But I sent you an email" or "I left you a phone message." Ultimately the receiver may have processed the email and acted on it but in some cases they don't. The action is left un-owned and undone. There was no persistent contact by the sender to ensure the message was received or the action was passed. What was required is dedicated persistence. The persistent Airman communicates the task, ensures the message was received and tracks down loose ends.

Second, along with persistence there needs to be a sense of urgency in the follow through. "Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today..." Yea, yea, yea, we have all heard it before, right? Our parents or maybe our grandparents have told us to always get our work done first. However, many of us don't fully listen to that advice. Let's be truthful, some things we put off or just let slide.

We can't afford to do that in the military. In today's military we all push hard at the tasks before us, we multi-task and sometimes we over-task. Every day we start a new initiative or project and it's easy to get behind or delay on specifics tasks. When you find yourself procrastinating you need to dig in and treat every task with a sense of priority as if the clock is ticking and you need to finish. Thinking inside the box, if the boss asks you to do something, do it and do it quickly. There is usually no reason to delay. Getting the information or project accomplished in a timely manner finishes the task for you but more importantly it finishes the task for the commander because he or she more than likely has 100 other challenges to face. Whenever you are assigned a task, assume your suspense is rapidly approaching and move out. Persistence will keep you on task and a sense of urgency will move you rapidly to the finish line.

Finally, there needs to be a sense of ownership. Why don't we routinely and consistently follow up on our tasks? Distractions, workload and prioritization all play into our daily routine in the Air Force. But behind those reasons is a more basic issue: lack of ownership. When an effort is personal to you the accomplishment is that much sweeter. Some have said you truly don't own the challenges of your unit until you are a squadron commander or first shirt. Because when you are in those positions there is no one else to discuss problems or compare notes with -- you own the situation, the task or the problem. However we can all own our part of the mission. When we truly own it, we personalize the task and make it part of our identity. It is that sense of personal ownership that allows Airmen to take the hardest challenge and move it across the finish line. In the end, if you own a task, you will have no problem signing your name to it, you will have no problem following through.

As Knights of the 21st we will take on any project and deliver an outstanding performance every time. However, given the scope and size of this wing our responsibilities can at times seem overwhelming. When that happens just remember that persistence, a sense of urgency and ownership will help us follow through and Dominate the High Ground.