Joint Base Charleston

 

Soup for your soul

By Master Sgt. Christopher Hughes IV | 628th Aerospace Medicine Squadron superintendent | April 01, 2015

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. -- May 15, 2014 was a bright sunny day; the birds were singing; the scent of flowers permeated the air while laughter filled the indoor atmosphere.  Regrettably it was a workday. However, the windows were propped open and a slight breeze blew through the office.  I was gazing out my office window, taking a few moments to enjoy the splendor.  What a glorious day!  Suddenly, out of nowhere, the skies darkened, the birds stopped singing and the flowers quickly wilted.  This was a strange phenomenon that I had never seen before.  What caused this sudden occurrence? 

As the abrupt change in weather transpired, someone entered my office and closed the door.  I slowly turned around and found myself face to face with the squadron commander.  Could this individual be the cause of this strange happening? I was unsure but the timing was uncanny.  This was our first time conversing and I was pleasantly surprised at the fluidity of our dialogue.  As we were talking, I was still troubled by the climate change and altered disposition of the birds and flowers. I thought, "Will it only be a matter of time before the cause of this disturbance was revealed?"  Once the formalities concluded, a simple question was posed by the commander; "How would you like to be the squadron superintendent?"  There it was; the cause of the cataclysmic chaos.  My world was perfect as I saw it and I was neither expecting nor wanting change at this time.  Despite my feelings, I smiled and said "Sir, it would be an honor."  Don't judge me.  I know I am not the only one who has ever thought one thing and said another.  Obviously, I'm being facetious in my recollection of how things occurred and, many of you probably know someone who has these same melodramatic tendencies. 

Dealing with various personalities, attitudes and backgrounds requires a set of particular skills that not many possess.  It takes a special breed of person to be able to detect, analyze and appropriately address diverse behaviors and have the ability to listen attentively and respond with empathy when required.  These individuals believe in the axiom, honesty is the best policy and understand that accountability is paramount within an organization.  Additionally, they have temperament to smile and make each individual feel important.  These people have the innate ability to be selfless in their willingness to serve others.  You are probably thinking that there are no such people but, I assure you, they exist.  I am of course referring to superintendents. 

Superintendents, affectionately known as supt (pronounced 'soup') play an important role in any institution.  From the monotonous to the miscellaneous, each day offers new challenges and rewards. 
Webster's dictionary defines Superintendent as a person who directs or manages an organization.  Although not inaccurate, there is more to the position then managing and directing.  The job of a Supt requires an ardent work ethic, coupled with compassion and candor; the foundation of servant leadership.  The following philosophies framed my understanding of servant leadership.  These are by no means all-inclusive but serve as a guide for all Supts.            
          
Listen attentively, respond with empathy 
We may find ourselves detracting from a conversation for various reasons.  You can learn a lot from a person by listening and being attuned to their needs.  I have been guilty of listening with the sole intent of responding in an effort to solve a presumed problem.  Sometimes, people just want someone to hear what they say and nothing more.  Attentiveness leads to understanding which creates a bond between speaker and listener.  Likewise, responding with empathy further solidifies that bond.         

Honesty is the best policy
Watching television one night, I saw a TV commercial where Pinocchio is a motivational speaker. While talking to a group of people he states, "I look around this room and see nothing but untapped potential...you have potential, you have...oh boy!"  The "oh boy" is indicative of his nose growing because he is clearly lying.  While there was potential in the room, Pinocchio did not believe they ALL had potential.  One man was intently listening and noticeably excited until Pinocchio's nose began to grow.  The man's non-verbal communication changed from excitement to despair in a matter of seconds. The moral of this story: be upfront and honest with folks.  They deserve it.  Do not alibi. Instead, discuss strengths and weaknesses of the individual with whom you are conversing.  If you plan on making a statement such as "you have untapped potential," back it up with factual information and, most importantly, believe it.

Accountability is paramount 
Holding people accountable for their actions can sometimes be difficult but only because we allow it to be.  Sometimes the hammer is required but too often the inflatable sword is used.  There is no cookie cutter approach to correcting wayward behavior. However, holding people accountable for their actions is still as important today as it was yesterday.  Moreover, hold yourself accountable and be the standard that you expect of others. It's been my experience that people want to be held to a higher standard and they expect to be told when they are not meeting those standards. 

Utilize the tools that the Air Force has provided and be resolute in your decisions.  Conversely, be sure to provide constant acknowledgement and positive reinforcement to your folks. You and the organization will reap a tremendous return on investment.  Holding people accountable does not require belittling. Stay on topic, do not resort to derogatory remarks and avoid criticism not related to the issue at hand.             

Smile...it's infectious
Smiling is often under-valued and under-utilized. The impact one smile can have on someone's day is amazing.  Typically, we concern ourselves with how we feel and don't realize that we project our feelings and emotions to others.  Make a conscious effort to engage others with a smile.  I recently read an article about a woman who smiled at a passer-by.  They both stopped and engaged in an hour long conversation. When they finished, the man thanked her and walked off.  A few days later, he sought her out to tell her that he had been on his way to commit suicide when she smiled at him.  It was the first happy encounter he had in weeks.  Still think that a smile has no impact?  This simple act can bridge gaps in work relationships, decrease stress and create a positive environment, thus increasing productivity.                

These lessons transcend position or rank but, as a Supt, I challenge all Supts to recognize that people are the vital component of their mission and to be more than someone who manages and directs an organization as Webster's so clearly and succinctly articulates.  The people we work with and for deserve more than how the position is defined.  Be the Soup for your Airman's soul! 

I'll leave you with a final thought from one of my scholastic mentors and favorite doctor, Dr. Seuss, "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." 


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