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Be a doer, make a difference for all that matters

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. (Dr.) Spencer Lee
  • 88th Dental Squadron

Our society is obsessed with the superficial. Spend any amount of time on social media, watching sports or driving around a city and we are bombarded with ads and billboards aimed at selling us on how to look younger, more attractive or more sophisticated.

The results are only skin deep. It can be hard to discern between what is real, superficial, and what’s worth our time and attention.

As leaders, we too may fall into this trap. It’s easy to get caught up in the superficial. This can manifest as thinking too much about us and not enough about those we lead. Or being overly concerned with promotion rather than the mission.

We have all known individuals who act like everyone owes them deference when they give little in return. Such attitudes are harmful to the team, a drain on morale and ultimately detrimental to the mission.

It is especially damaging at the top. If your people walk on eggshells around you, then something needs to change.

Our job as leaders is to avoid such behavior – and strive to work as a team to achieve goals for the common good of the group, whether in military or civilian life. That often means giving more than we get, living up to the Air Force core value of service before self.

How to change or improve? Don’t just be, do.

In a 2019 article by the pseudonym Col. “Ned Stark”, the author discusses being either a “careerist” or “doer.” A careerist is someone who seeks self-promotion and control, who values “personal loyalty over institutional loyalty.”

In contrast, “Stark” challenges us to be doers, leaders who “value diversity of thought” and loyalty to the greater cause. They share in taking calculated risks with their subordinates because it’s the right thing to do, regardless of the potential political fallout.

To be a doer, we must know the mission and our people. Be all in and not just idling on the sideline while others handle the risk and responsibility.

Seek humility and take time to perform self-reflection.

Leadership may require a sharp learning curve. A maxim attributed to early 20th-century American scholar John Dewey states, “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.” “Stark” recommends taking “…time to reflect on the decisions you’ve made …scrutinize(ing) your motives closely to ensure you are doing things for the right reasons — reasons that advance the mission and take care of your people and not yourself.”

To be a doer is best captured in the advice Col. John Boyd, the famed Air Force fighter pilot and strategic innovator, gave to a close friend: “(Choose) what kind of person you are going to be. There are two career paths in front of you …. One leads to promotions, titles and positions of distinction… (where) …you must go along with the system and show you are a better team player than your competitors.

“The other path leads to doing things that are truly significant for the Air Force, but the rewards will quite often be a kick in the stomach because you may have to cross swords with the party line on occasion. You can’t go down both paths, you have to choose. …To be or to do, that is the question.”

As leaders, let us choose to make a difference for the mission, Air Force and our people. Let us choose to do.