The text of my speech at the graduation of class 05-H of the Julius Kolb Airman Leadership School.
Airman Leadership School is about Leadership and Success - two of my favorite subjects. I could speak for hours about leadership and success, but I'm not going to. (There's supposed to be applause) This is going to be a fast and furious look at my leadership toolbox. My 12 treasured beliefs about leadership and success.
I like bumper stickers. I like things boiled down so they would fit on bumper stickers. I've boiled down 12 treasured beliefs about leadership and success into bumper stickers and I'm going to spend less than a minute on each one.
We have a whole room full of leaders here with different levels of experience and responsibility. My objective is to give everyone something that will make them more successful AND more successful as leaders.
So here goes…12 bumper stickers in 10 minutes or less.
Treasured Beliefs About Leadership and Success
Treasured Belief #1 I believe leadership is the most valuable commodity in the world.
It weighs nothing, cannot be scientifically measured and defies precise definition. Yet when it is absent progress stops and is replaced chaos and decay. Leadership is easily coined into financial power. Most of the highest paid people in the world are paid for their leadership skills. So for most of us, the path to success is tied to the ability to lead.
Treasured Belief #2 You get to define success.
Everyone gets to define their own version of success. Don’t let someone else define success for you. If you don’t define success, you’re future becomes a random result. But if you choose and engage in the right behaviors, your ambitions can be realized. So then the operative question that follows is: What are the right behaviors?
Treasured Belief #3 In order to lead others, you need to be able to lead yourself first.
If you can't inspire yourself to act with enthusiasm and energy, you won't be able to inspire anyone else. Once you define success, and choose your direction, be willing to act. Be confident. Confidence is your trust in your ability to lead yourself. Why would someone follow you if they don't trust you? Why would someone follow you if you don't trust yourself? Be daring, willful and persistent. Nothing succeeds like persistence. Whether your long term goals lie within or outside the AF, behaviors are the key to achievement.
Treasured Belief #4 Encourage your people to define their success.
People do what they do, because they want what they want. People embrace behaviors that they believe will deliver the things they want.
To get them to do what you need, figure out how to help them get what they want. While they are getting what they want and doing what you want them to do, as a team you will be making great things happen. Emphasize the link between performance and achievement.
Treasured Belief #5 Who you are is not static.
I can't emphasize this enough: YOU ARE going to change! Who You Are is not Static. You are a different version of you with every passing moment. We are traveling through time and we are all changing. Always. Do not be satisfied with who you are. Do not be discouraged or intimidated by who you are not. Be optimistic and ambitious about who you will become. Do not become an old bitter wrinkled version of who you are today.
Treasured Belief #6 If you aren’t having fun, you aren’t doing it right.
Choose worthy goals and take pleasure in achieving them. Be happy along the way. Make progress and be happy as you make progress.
Treasured Belief #7 Make decisions and then act.
Leadership is making things happen. Leadership is separating what needs to be done from what doesn’t and then taking action. Great leadership is choosing to do the impossible and then achieving it.
Treasured Belief #8 Know what your job is and know your job.
Focus on leading, innovating, and organizing. Be intellectually strong, smart, and nimble. Don’t focus on filling squares to get promoted. If you want to be promoted to Tech Sergeant, emulate the behaviors of the best Tech Sergeant you’ve ever seen. Filling squares is what you do in between the important stuff. No one was ever admired for “filling squares” or “getting their ticket punched.” Some square filling is necessary, but it should never be the priority.
Treasured Belief #9 Live each day in a heroic manner.
Having a heroic moment is a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Being ready for a heroic moment is a matter of personal preparation that takes daily self-discipline. Be prepared when your moment comes by living each day in a heroic manner. Your heroic moment may be intervening when a co-worker is about to self-destruct, or it may be putting a bullet between the eyes of a fanatic trying to drive a truckload of explosives into a hospital compound. Prepare for each day as if you knew it would contain your finest hour. Be alert – and be prepared.
Treasured Belief #10 Ya gotta love the troopies!
Tony Urenda was the best first sergeant I ever knew. He was built like a bear and strong as an ox. And when he talked about leadership he'd always say "Ya Gotta Love the Troopies!" and we'd tease him and say things like: "Shirt! You can't do that - there are regulations against it." He'd come up and grab you and say Arrrgh! Mikie, I love ya. You are the heat!" I occasionally see him and he still does it. He really did love us. He was at his best when we "troopies" were at our worst.
The "troopies" don’t care what you know if they don’t know that you care.
So how do you show them you care? Create the conditions for their success and help them get what they want. When "troopies" see you working to help them achieve success, they know you care.
If they know you care, they’ll trust you.
Colin Powell says: If your people don’t bring you their problems, you aren’t really their leader.
Treasured Belief #11 The road to glory is service and sacrifice.
As NCOs, you are expected to be more dedicated and sacrifice more than before. This is a serious business and it requires serious people to do it. Do not shirk or shrink away from tough duty. Wade into it fearlessly! Your efforts will add to the legacy of the Air Force! If you show me someone that is revered in glory, I can show you where they sacrificed or served to get there. When things are tough, remind yourself that you are “on the road to glory”, because the road to glory is service and sacrifice. Life is not fair. Get over it and get the mission done.
Treasured Belief #12 Leadership is attitude as much as anything else.
Positive leaders are almost always more effective than negative leaders. Pro-active leaders are almost more effective than reactive leaders. Be a positive pro-active leader. When things are tough, keep a great attitude. It attracts followers and generates enthusiasm. Even when things are tough, if you aren’t having fun, you aren’t doing it right. Enthusiastic people will tirelessly look for solutions to problems long after discouraged people will surrender.
Ronald Reagan who is legendary for his optimistic view and great enthusiasm had a favorite story and it goes like this:
A couple had twin boys of five or six. Worried that the boys had developed extreme personalities -- one was a total pessimist, the other a total optimist -- their parents took them to a psychiatrist.
First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys. But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears. "What's the matter?" the psychiatrist asked, baffled. "Don't you want to play with any of the toys?" "Yes," the little boy bawled, "but if I did I'd only break them."
Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his out look, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist. Then he clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands. "What do you think you're doing?" the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist. "With all this manure," the little boy replied, beaming, "there must be a pony in here somewhere!"
Leadership is the only thing that will solve the challenges that lie before us. Some of my people helped me make up some wallet-sized cards for you that have these Treasured Beliefs on them. I have one for each of the graduates and I have a few extras for others that might want them. Thank you for the opportunity to shadow your class and speak at the graduation. It's been a joy and a blessing to me.
Some people have a little rain cloud that follows them around. They transmit an atmosphere of victimhood and pessimism. Examine yourselves. You are among the wealthiest 5% of the world population. You have more formal and technical education than 95% of the world's population. You live in a country that people risk life and every asset they have to break out of the place they are and get here – even if they have to get here illegally. Ditch that rain cloud. Dry yourselves off and capitalize on all the opportunity that surrounds you.
3 Brief Quotes in closing:
Forrest Gump said: That’s about all I have to say about that.
PFC Elvis Presley of the 3rd Armored Regiment said: Thangyu, thanguverymudge.
And President Ronald Reagan used to say: God Bless You and God Bless America.
Now go out and dig for that pony.