Taking the hard road not easy

LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Leadership for most of us means making things better and getting the job done. It's fair to say many leadership decisions are simple to say, but not always easy to do. Another way to say it, a real leader takes the hard road versus the easier route in meeting a goal. I believe we've all seen cases where taking the hard road made the difference between meeting a goal vs missing it. 

My most memorable leadership lesson of "taking the hard road" came when I was the flight commander for the Special Instruments Training at Goodfellow AFB, TX. I joined the flight when they were at a lull. They were a great team of professionals who worked hard training their basic and advanced students. The lull was their motivation to do anything beyond the minimum and work for improvements. 

"It doesn't make a difference if we do extra," the long-time NCOs told me. "Just look at our past IG inspections. We've only received a SAT, no matter how hard we try." It was true that the past ten years, this flight had only received Satisfactory ratings. Even for all their innovations, they never fixed some paperwork shortfalls. I saw firsthand a team of great trainers but same old methods on their paperwork. 

To resolve this, I set a clear flight goal of an Excellent from the next Air Education and Training Command's Inspector General's inspection that was only seven months away. This success centered on their ability to manage the paperwork within compliance. Making it actually happen is the tough part. 

Shortly thereafter, AETC came down with a request to augment the IG. I brought this to our SNCOs as a great way for one of our staff to understand how the paperwork needs to look and then make our documents IG proof. The replies were just the opposite. "Taking this TDY would only put them more behind," I was told. "Plus that's the hard way to do it." This was the NCO who I targeted to take this TDY. Upon his return, things were very different. This man was on fire. He not only enjoyed the experience, but he exclaimed "now I've got it" to the old hands who struggled with the training documents. 

Many books, like "360 Degree Leadership" by John Maxwell, describe this simple choice as taking the hard road. In it, he states "be willing to do what others won't." Even though augmenting an inspection team is not rare, it is something many don't' choose for themselves. A simple yes to a "hard task" for this flight resulted in meeting the goal. The next IG put an Excellent next to their name. All it took was for one of their leaders to take the hard road. They avoided the hard road before, but not anymore.