HomeNewsCommentariesDisplay

Commentary: How's the air?

Wingman (U.S. Air Force graphic/Senior Airman Stephen Cadette)

As an Air Force family, we interact with our colleagues and friends on a daily basis. As wingmen, it is necessary that each one of us is aware and takes care of each other, especially if we suspect or notice that something is wrong. Once we become aware that something is or may be wrong, we have a duty as leaders to engage with the individual and offer advice, counsel or a friendly, familiar ear just to listen. (U.S. Air Force graphic/Senior Airman Stephen Cadette)

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. -- Two birds are flying on a beautiful spring morning. As they fly, they pass another bird going in the opposite direction and the passing bird asks, "How's the air this morning?" As the two birds continued their flight, after a few minutes, one bird asks the other, "What the heck is air?"

A lot of the time we are like the birds, unaware of our surroundings or the forces that keep us aloft. As we fly through the skies, accomplishing the tasks of our everyday lives, we often forget to stop and take notice of what surrounds us. In doing so, we sometimes fail to be aware of the world beyond our own short-sighted view.

Awareness is the ability to perceive, sense, feel or be conscience of events, surroundings and other stimuli around us. Without it, we are destined to drift through life like the birds, oblivious to the sights, scents, smells, sounds and sensations that surround us. With awareness, we can focus on who and where we are today, and who and where we want to be in the future.

Awareness and self-awareness are two useful skills that we can use to make the necessary changes to become the people we want to be, in the place in life we want to be in.

Awareness is particularly important within the construct of the wingman concept.

As an Air Force family, we interact with our colleagues and friends on a daily basis. As wingmen, it is necessary that each one of us is aware and takes care of each other, especially if we suspect or notice that something is wrong. Once we become aware that something is or may be wrong, we have a duty as leaders to engage with the individual and offer advice, counsel or a friendly, familiar ear just to listen.

As leaders and future leaders, it is good practice to check in with our troops and gauge how they are doing, both professionally and personally. It is our duty to act as their mentors, confidants and trusted advisors, showing them that their chain of command is accessible and genuinely interested in their well-being; rather than being viewed as only being there to supervise or discipline.

Taking an active interest in our troops is a key step in building awareness of what is going on in their lives. Being aware of those around us makes us better leaders, colleagues and wingmen.

The other piece of awareness is self-awareness. Self-awareness is the ability to have a clear perception of your personality - how you see yourself as a person. It is the ability to recognize your strengths, weaknesses and beliefs; and understand what motivates you, what makes you happy and what you want to change about yourself and your life.

Being self-aware allows you to understand others, how others perceive you and how your attitude affects interactions with others. According to Bill George, Professor of Management at Harvard Business School, "the key to effective leadership development comes down to self-awareness." Being a good wingman and leader starts with being self-aware.

Self-awareness is not something that can be learned by reading a book. It is a skill set that is developed through focusing your attention on your personality, your actions, your attitude and how you react to difficult situations.

According to Dr. Brad Lebo, a specialist in organizational behavior at the Vital Growth Consulting Group, there are many benefits of self-awareness. These benefits include the potential to learn from constructive feedback, improved interaction with others, and being open to delegating tasks to those who are better suited to perform them.

Gaining and utilizing these skills has many benefits, such as learning to recognize shortcomings in your personality and making the changes necessary to be a better leader. Additionally, being able to turn weaknesses into strengths by leaning on others and learning from them is a valuable way of gaining self-awareness.

Recognizing your weaknesses and leveraging your strengths allows you to delegate those tasks that are outside your area of expertise and concentrate on those that you excel at, making you more effective.

According to Dr. Lebo, the best way to get and build self-awareness is to practice analyzing your own behavior and then ask others for feedback. A suggested approach to this is to:
  1. Reflect on your behavior in a specific situation.
  2. Analyze what you did well and what you could have done better.
  3. Ask others for feedback.
  4. Compare your self-analysis to the feedback you received.
By analyzing your behavior against how it is perceived by those around you, you will become more self-aware and, in turn, a better and more effective leader.
Awareness and self-awareness are two building blocks of successful leadership. By taking notice of what is around us and being cognizant of our responses, we can build the skills to be truly influential in our organizations and in our personal lives.

When we take the time to stop and notice, we will be able to answer the bird passing by that the air is great, rather than wondering what air is in the first place.