The best leadership lessons are often learned when we mess up.
When I was a young Captain, I verbally disrespected a maintenance crew chief for not fully fueling my F-16 before an important training flight. It wasn’t a big deal, but I was frustrated because it would cut my training short.
After landing, my commander, who heard about how I treated the airman, ordered me to walk the flight line to see what the soldiers did behind the scenes so that I could do the coolest job in the world – fly the F-16.
The experience was humbling, to say the least. I did inspections, changed tires, and yes – re-fueled jets. The work was much harder than I expected. Quite frankly, I really didn’t understand what the soldiers did every day to make sure the pilots were mission-ready. As far as I was concerned, I was the officer and they were enlisted. They worked for me.
I was cocky and had an ego. I wasn’t a wingman.
After “walking the flight line”, I got to know the airmen as people and learned about their dreams and passions. Some even wanted to fly the F-16 but couldn’t because they didn’t have the money or the grades to go to college. It made me thankful for the blessings that I had growing up which afforded me more opportunities. What I ultimately realized was that I really didn’t know the people who worked with me. I never took the time to appreciate these unsung heroes who truly had an impact on the mission.
Who’s flight line do you need to walk? Who are the unsung heroes who do the tough jobs in your office every day? Do you know them? Do you thank them? Do you appreciate them?
People work harder and go the extra mile when they are appreciated. They also adapt to change and are more resilient.
Walking the flight line not only improves morale and relationships, it improves performance!
PS – This month, I was fortunate to spend time with the commander who taught me this valuable, humbling lesson about appreciation over a decade ago. At the time, I admit I was sort of angry at him – even though I deserved it. But being a leader sometimes means reprimanding people that work for you when they mess up. It’s not easy to do. And while they may not realize the lesson at the time, it can make a lasting impression and help them become a better leader in the future. Thank you Lt Col “Enos” Dodson!