3 essential elements of our success

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Mike Finn
  • 509th Communications Squadron commander
We are the uncontested best Air Force on the planet and it is Airmen that make us great. 

What is it about Airmen that differentiate us from other services and organizations? 

What makes the Air Force immensely successful? 

The Air Force has sent me to countless hours of professional military training courses, leadership seminars and graduate school classes all in the interest of teaching me about effective leadership, organizational behavior and how to make the Air Force successful in our mission to fly, fight and win. 

Based on those valuable and insightful curriculums, mentorship, plus a little of my own experience and observation, I have come to the conclusion that Air Force success boils down to three essential elements: 

1. Live the core values
2. Give Respect
3. Don't do dumb stuff 

These elements of success are simply stated but are multifaceted and interdependent. 

Embracing and executing them take a special caliber of person. 

Exactly the type of men and women we have in the Air Force. All Airmen are familiar with the Air Force core values of integrity, selflessness and excellence. 

They know them and can recite them. But that is not sufficient. 

We are successful because we live them. 

They become more than the Air Force core values, they become our core values. 

They are the foundation of our actions and the fabric of our reasoning. Living the core values allows us to reach the highest levels of individual performance. 

Respect as a concept is somewhat more illusive and more difficult to capture in writing. Respect can mean something different to each Airman because of our diverse backgrounds. We also do not directly teach the fundamentals of respect in most Air Force curriculums. 

In this context, respect is not about Airmen rendering salutes or saying "Yes, Ma'am." 

While these are an important part of our culture, they are customs and courtesies. Respect is an extension of the Golden Rule of treating others as you want to be treated. 

It is a fundamental component of character that can only be given and never taken. Respect must be mutual. 

Airmen are successful because we maintain respect for others including supervisors, peers and especially subordinates. 

As leaders, at all levels, we consistently demonstrate respect for the talent and experience of the Airmen we lead. 

In return, they will give respect, thus creating an environment of mutual respect. 

Mutual respect is the underpinning of trust, loyalty, teamwork and empowerment. Mutual respect is integral to the wingman concept. Respect for the Air Force as an organization also makes us strong. 

Our respect for the Air Force commits us to embrace the core values and follow policy and instructions. 

Customs and courtesies are observed because of our respect for our rich Air Force heritage. 

The final aspect of respect is self-respect. We respect ourselves by doing whatever is necessary to be fit, ready, trained and educated. 

It motivates us, drives our personal discipline and makes us proud to be Airmen. Integrity is our crosscheck to self respect. 

When we look in the mirror and ask, "Have I done everything I can to be the best?" 

Our integrity demands an honest answer. 

As Airmen of integrity, our self-respect obligates us to the pursuit of excellence, often through self-sacrifice. 

Respect in all of its aspects is what molds the force into a cohesive instrument of national power. 

It takes individual Airmen committed to our core values and builds them into trusting and loyal teams focused on the success of our mission. 

The final element of success is don't do dumb stuff. 

Much of the "dumb stuff" is safety related, such as, drinking and driving, playing golf in a thunderstorm, using gasoline to light a grill and cleaning a loaded weapon. 

There is also much on-the-job dumb stuff that is unique to our work environments that can have a catastrophic impact on our mission. 

A single dumb decision on- or off-duty can undermine the accomplishments and readiness of an entire unit that otherwise practices the respectful application of our core values. We live, work and fight in a very dynamic environment. 

This environment forces Airmen at all levels to make decisions and take risks. 

The key is evaluating the risk and avoid the blatantly dumb decisions that lead to mission failure. 

Although not immune to poor decisions, the Air Force is fortunate to have a culture of sound decision-making and risk mitigation; primarily because we have intelligent, dedicated Airmen empowered to make decisions at the lowest possible level. 

The Air Force, Whiteman in particular, is unquestionably successful in all we do because we have Airmen who are committed to our core values and execute them in an environment of mutual trust while avoiding exceptionally bad decisions. 

The consistent application of these three elements of success by each Airman creates individual winners and combines to make our Air Force great.