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As Consistent as a Prevailing Wind

SELFRIDGE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mich. -- Prevailing Wind that is the name of our Wings' e-newsletter, but what does that mean?

Wikipedia defines prevailing winds as "winds that blow predominantly from a single general direction over a particular point on the Earth's surface." To me, that means constancy. It does not say that there is never a variation. It does not mean that there is never a storm or disturbance. What it means to me is that there is constancy in direction. I would like to draw on that to drive home my message to you this month.

If we, as the 127th Wing, are to achieve this constancy in direction that this name implies, we must achieve consistency. What we must strive for is consistent excellence. That is one of our core values and only the striving for and achievement of excellence in all we do will allow us to fulfill our obligation to our employer, the American People.

Ford had an advertising campaign several years ago that touted Excellence as job one. For those of us in the service of our nation, excellence can be our only job. In the Medical Group we have striven over the last four years to create a culture of excellence wherein this becomes the norm, the standard, the minimum acceptable level of performance. We do not always succeed, but the occasional atmospheric disturbance cannot be allowed to draw our attention away from predominance of our direction.

We have sought to achieve this by developing a consistency in our leadership -- not my leadership, our leadership. I have 53 people for whom I work in the Medical Group. Yes I work for them, not the other way around. I work for 53 leaders who are all at their own individual levels of leadership. This provides me with a great challenge because it is easy to lead followers. It is much more difficult to lead leaders and I have some outstanding ones.

The skeptics in the crowd do not believe that everyone in the Med Group is a leader. That is because they don't fully understand the depths to which leadership must penetrate and how thoroughly it must permeate an organization to make it a great one. Nor do they understand the roles and responsibilities of every single member of a great organization.

In Jim Collins' book Good to Great, he lists the five levels of leadership identified in his research of great and not so great companies. His team found that the first level of leadership was the "Highly Capable Individual" who leads by making 'productive contributions through talent, knowledge, skills and good work habits'. Not only do these members lead in this way but they also lead though example and inspire others around them to do the same. Is there any member of the Wing who cannot lead at this level? The answer to this question is an emphatic no.

Sadly, however some of our members may not ever to be able to lead in a capacity beyond this first level. I do want all members of my team to grow up and become group and wing commanders or chiefs some day. Despite my wants and desires for them all, only a few will grow themselves as leaders and reach this level of service.

Jon Maxwell has his own interpretation on this subject and also has five levels of leadership that he explains in his book, aptly named the 5 Levels of Leadership. His levels correspond more with the traditional view of leadership. His first level of leadership corresponds closely with Collins' third level. Maxwell states that these are people who lead by position. People do what you say because you are the boss. He states "people follow you because they have to." Maxwell's next level says that people follow you "because they want to." I would disagree with Maxwell on this point. People may obey you because they have to, but no one will ever follow you because they "have" to. When we choose to follow another person, it is a volitional act and it must be earned. We earn the right to lead others by developing a relationship of trust. The people who choose to follow us must trust that we do all we can to look out for their best interest and will only ask from them sacrifices that we as leaders have already made and are willing to make ourselves.

We must all embrace our role as leaders in our organization, despite our rank. We must earn the trust of those we hope to lead and we must lead by example. Only then can create a culture of excellence and demonstrate that we are the prevailing wind in our country, worthy of the sacred trust we hold as members of our nation's military. Only then will we develop the constancy and consistency equal to the task of being our nation's sword and shield. Only then can we be the prevailing wind constantly blowing in the direction of integrity, in the direction of service, in the direction of excellence in all we do.

"You can accomplish anything in life, provided you do not mind who gets the credit." -- Harry S. Truman.