Leading by example

  • Published
  • By Col. Rebecca Blackwell
  • 21st Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander
I am a big fan of inspirational quotes to keep my compass pointed to my true north. I keep a few favorites on my desk so that I see them every day. Certainly, some of them are platitudes that are better cross-stitched and hanging in my favorite aunt's kitchen than guiding my daily operations, as they have been so overused that they have lost their luster. Others retain their guiding function regardless how many times I read them.

One lends itself particularly to leading with integrity. In short, it is a suggestion to imagine a child following me all day every day, repeating everything I say and everything I do. This serves as a poignant reminder to me to be mindful of my every choice. I imagine six-year old me listening and watching me and try to consider how that big-hearted, relatively naïve mid-western girl would perceive my choices.

Most relevant to this writing, I am conscientious about how particularly I maintain the standards of dress and appearance. I strive to treat everyone I meet with dignity and respect. I focus my energy on actively listening to those who speak to me. I make every effort to be gracious at all times. During my off-duty time, I try to drive politely. I genuinely feel remorse about cutting another driver off in traffic. I drive on the right and pass on the left, hoping the other drivers will follow my lead. I hold doors. I say please and thank you. I make eye contact with grocery clerks, waitresses and panhandlers. These are small things and many are old-fashioned and out-of fashion. Perhaps my shadow-child would find me dorky or embarrassing. But, these are the things I would want her to know I believe are important. These are the things I try to do. I often fail. Then, I acknowledge the missteps and try again at the next opportunity.

The second quote verges on a platitude but directs me to "Service Before Self." It is attributed to Henry James, an American author. "Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind."

It is very simple guidance - be nice to each other. It is a more direct version of the Golden Rule. Yet time after time, this is where I find us failing. We prefer to be right. We prefer to be cool. We prefer to be popular. Of course, our jobs require that we develop into experts in our career fields. But, serving our Airmen before serving ourselves demands kindness. I am not describing the type of softness that accepts anything less than the highest standards. This isn't the kindness that turns a blind-eye to those who are not demonstrating integrity. This is real kindness. It demands that I require integrity and high standards, push my team to do their best and genuinely care about people with and for whom I work. This kindness drives me to serve my Airmen and my mission before I am self-serving. And, it compels me to be kind to myself, promoting my personal resilience. If I don't take care of myself, I have less kindness to share.

As your 2015 New Year's resolutions lose their luster, consider these two sincere ones as substitutes - lead by example by living as if young-you is watching and be kind.