“Waldo, Sgt. Tyler told me what happened before you took off this afternoon, and I am not impressed.” In an instant I knew what he was referring to.
Just a few hours earlier before taking off on a training mission, I had reprimanded my 22-year-old crew F-16 chief for shorting me 500 pounds of fuel. My wing tanks just wouldn’t feed and there was nothing he could do. It didn’t matter to me. My mission was going to be cut short and I was upset … it reflected in my irritated tone of voice and I insulted him.
The commander continued, “Waldo, I’m taking you off the flying schedule tomorrow, and I want you to dig out your oldest flight suit. You’re spending the day on the flight line with the crew chiefs.”
That day was the longest of my career. I was up at the crack of dawn and didn’t stop for 12 hours - fueling jets, inspecting engines, and doing inventory on aircraft parts. By the end of the day I was exhausted. I smelled of jet fuel and my flight suit was trashed, a huge grease spot down the length of each pant leg.
Despite the negatives, walking the flight line gave me an appreciation of what the maintenance troops go through to make sure the jets of the 79th Fighter Squadron are mission ready. It also gave me the opportunity to get to know them on a personal level. Without their sacrifice, there would be no mission.
WALK THE FLIGHT LINESo, are you getting out there with your troops and walking the flight line? Do you know their issues, gripes, and personal concerns? Are you spending time with your IT staff to see the hoops they have to jump through to make sure your website, computers, and software are up to speed? Do you walk the factory floor and talk to the quality assurance inspector about the challenges she may be facing? Have you ever spent a day with your channel partners and joined them on a few sales calls?
William James, a well known psychologist, said that the desire to be appreciated is one of the deepest drives in human nature. Knowing that our contribution is valued gives us fuel to crank our engines to afterburner in the heat of battle. When we’re appreciated, we’ll stay committed to the mission and what’s necessary to get the job done despite the budget cuts, limited resources, and stresses of work.
You don’t need a formal title to do the things that are done by great leaders. Here are a few wingtips to put into action tomorrow:
• Take one person out to lunch each week from a department other than your own.
• Schedule an (unannounced) “squadron tour.” Visit your various “shops,” and in a way that doesn’t put anyone on the spot, randomly interview your wingmen. Ask about their challenges and how you can help them.
• Sit in on a strategy session with your marketing team or a weekly budget update with a project manager.
SHARE YOUR BEST PRACTICESWalking the flight line builds credibility and effectiveness as a leader. When you know the job details and understand the challenges your wingmen face, you’ll be far better prepared to deal with human resource issues such as hiring, firing, and job moves.
What results is a more trusting work environment. Your co-workers and employees will be more likely to approach you with their problems because they’ll know that you know what it’s like to walk in their shoes. They’ll view you as a wingman - a trusted partner - and will see that you care not by your philosophy, but by your action. Sure, you may have to get a little dirty, but the rewards are well worth it.