This time of year brings forth a lot of discussion about change. We see the start of a new year as a reason to set new goals and right some of the wrongs from the previous year. Although, I am not much of a New Year’s Resolution type of person, I do appreciate taking the time to reflect on the previous year and trying to learn from my experiences. The big lesson I learned this year is about change and seeing some of the things coming down the line in the Air Force, it might be apropos for all of us.
Change happens. No matter what you do or where you live, things change. Even if we try very hard to stop it, the world still evolves. New technology and new thinking makes things obsolete and often it is for the better. I remember my first deployment to Iraq in 2003 and how I was restricted to short phone calls and emails with my loved ones. Then in 2008, we could Skype on our days off. My last deployment, I was able to FaceTime with my family from anywhere on the base. This is an example of how change is good. There weren’t too many people complaining about these changes.
In fact, most changes are not bad. The problem is in the roll out of the changes. For those who PCS often, it is often welcomed change. However, if you sold it to your family as if you were forced to go and this new place is terrible, the whole family will go to this new place wearing negative lenses. They will only be able to see the negative things and completely ignore everything else. For those leading change, the first thing is to create a positive lens for others.
When changes cross the path, we see how so many start the negative talk immediately. They take to social media and trumpet their dislike and look for others who feel the same way. We spread rumors and our fantasies about what “could” happen. We create and buy-in to false narratives. When I was in Crew Chief tech school, we were conditioned in a similar way. We were led to believe that if we weren’t going to the flightline, it was the end. The truth is, no one cared who we were. We were chosen for the hangar or the line based on manning numbers and the needs of the unit. Both environments had important missions and created amazing Crew Chiefs. However, so many students left the school with a negative lens. Ironically, if you asked the same Crew Chiefs to switch places 2 years later, they would refuse.
To create a positive lens, we first have to gain trust as a leader. A perfect example of this is CMSAF Wright. We trust and respect him and would follow him to the ends of the Earth. Every change he pushes is instantly seen through a positive lens by the majority of Airmen, because we trust him. His predecessor was not trusted and his ideas met constant scrutiny. Why? Main reason was communication. Chief Wright is accessible and approachable. He communicates his ideas and is willing to discuss. I can’t remember the exact post on his Facebook page, but there was something going on in our world and Airmen were stressed out. He responded to comments on his personal page into the middle of the night. He is visible, interested and involved. He earned our trust first and now his changes are all seen differently. That is why the advice given to new leaders is to not make changes right away. It should actually be, “Don’t make changes until you earned your team’s trust.”
Things are going to change. Often times, we are the leaders who are charged with making the change happen. It is up to us to put in the work now to earn the trust of our team so when the time comes, we are able to push the change through the positive lenses we have created.