Living the Core Values

  • Published
  • By Col. Douglas L. Risk
  • 55th Dental Squadron commander
Where did you learn right from wrong? Your parents? Your grandparents? Church? School?

Most of us learned right from wrong as we grew up. It happened all around us by our exposure to choices. When we made good choices, we were either rewarded, and when we made the wrong choice, we were "redirected" sometimes rather harshly.

The bottom line is that we got the message through experience. That sense of right and wrong is what makes us who we are today. It has become part of our character. There is a level of right from wrong that goes way beyond just right. There is a level of behavior that is truly exceptional. The question is how do we get there from here?

In the Air Force, we are taught the Core Values: Integrity, Service before Self and Excellence in All We Do. As we progress through our careers in the Air Force, we begin to believe and live by these core values. They become part of our character. According to the little blue book published in January 1997, 'Integrity is the "moral compass"--the inner voice; the voice of self control; the basis for the trust imperative in today's military.' It talks about courage, honesty, responsibility, accountability, justice, openness, self-respect, and humility. Using these character traits and desirable qualities would certainly steer us in the right direction when making a choice between right and wrong. It would even get us on the right track toward exceptional. The Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. Norton Schwartz, has added an interesting book to his reading list this year: Start with Why by Simon Sinek. The author takes the character compass and explains why making the right decision feels right. When we feel something is right, seldom can we explain why it feels right, it just does. In reading this book, I am constantly confronted with questions about the motivations of some behavior and whether we truly believe in our core values or whether the Air Force is a means to a pay check.

Start with Why begins with stories of companies with a firm belief in why they exist. Not just the philosophy that we exist to make money or we exist to make thing, but we exist because we are not satisfied with the status quo, or we exist because the world needs to change; or in the case of the military, we exist because America needs to be defended, by the best people America has to offer. We can certainly extrapolate this philosophy to each individual who joined the military. We all have different reasons why we joined the Air Force. Those reasons have evolved for most of us into why we stayed in the Air Force. I would like to think most of us evolved into strong believers that the Air Force has become a part of us and that we don't think it would be as good unless we are a part of it. I don't think that is a selfish thought. That should be the truth. We should be able to honestly say that our whole entire being does nothing to detract from the quality of the Air Force as a whole and if I weren't here, the Air Force would be worse off? That is a powerful concept. We are judged on this very concept every day as we shop at the grocery stores and department stores off base. When we meet friends at a restaurant, there are so many times when you could look around at the tables and pick out the military families or groups; not by the haircuts but by the behavior. Often they are sitting just a little bit straighter, talking with just a little bit more respect to the wait staff or to each other. Our civilian friends notice it when we are out on a Saturday night. They can tell if we are adding to or detracting from the character of the Air Force by our behavior. I have just given us a goal. How does your behavior and mine add to or detract from the character of the Air Force and what am I doing about it, everyday? I may need to pay more attention.

We can start with knowing that every day we start with a clean slate. Mark Sanborn wrote about his postman in a book called the Fred Factor. In it, Sanborn talks about the idea that everyone makes a difference. Nobody can prevent you from choosing to be exceptional. And there are no unimportant jobs, just people who feel unimportant doing their jobs. To illustrate this idea, Sanborn complimented a busboy at a busy fast food restaurant. Initially, the busboy was moping around cleaning tables at a slow, dreary pace. After the compliment saying how nice it was that the busboy was there to make sure everyone in the restaurant had a nice clean surface to eat on and that his work really made a difference to everyone here, the busboy perked up and started to really make an effort to do a good job clearing tables. There may be opportunities in the day where we compliment our housekeeping staff, our kids or a worker at a restaurant for making a difference. Sometimes, the work isn't really done well but without that person doing the job, the work would never get done at all.

Exceptional service is possible wherever we sit in life. There are so many opportunities for us to be exceptional at what we do, that we should be using all of our imagination and all of our character for the good of those around us. Sanborn talks about using opportunities that are right in front of us to create value in our relationships with our neighbors, friends and fellow human beings. Every day, we make a difference in the experiences of those around us. Will today be a positive influence or a negative influence? To paraphrase a recent Airman Leadership School speaker, we need to "Bring positive influences back to the unit and add value and credit to the Air Force as you perform the mission." Sorry, Chief, if I didn't get it quite right.

There are many examples of behavior that gets noticed for the right reasons and that bring credit and value upon the U.S. Air Force. On the way home this evening, let someone cut in front of you as you are driving; leave enough room between you and the next car; slow down and stop when the light is yellow. This evening, floss all your teeth, not just the front ones. Tomorrow morning, wake up 10 minutes early and enjoy a shorter line at the gate, you may show up to work 20 minutes early; if you do, make the coffee. Take a deep breath before correcting your kids, or better yet, compliment them first and then redirect their behavior toward something positive like writing a letter to Grandma rather than spending 30 minutes on Facebook. Volunteer to do the dishes or cook or any other chore you find around the house. By helping someone who also finds it hard work, the job becomes a contest to see who can finish first or how you can make the job easier. These little examples are opportunities that you can use to make your behavior exceptional and people will notice.

Sanborn gives ten ways to create value in the Fred Factor: First, be truthful; what a ubiquitous opportunity, it's there every time we open our mouths. Next, Practice personality power: be genuinely happy to see your co-workers and do your best to work as a team. Third, he says, attract through artistry: put some flare into your work area or greetings. Don't just finish the job but clear the area when you're done; pick up someone else's trash as a gesture, it may be contagious. Fourth, meet the needs of your customers in advance: this means "do your homework" and anticipate the expectations before going into a meeting or task. Bring your comments ready to be entered into the minutes, if you don't already do so. Fifth, add good stuff: inject positive energy into your workcenter and your team. Sixth, obviously, subtract bad stuff: can you eliminate waiting times, defects in your teams work, mistakes by using preventive measures that go beyond procedures, irritation and frustration among your customers, misinformation, and "bad news" never improves with age so report trouble immediately up the chain of command if appropriate. Seventh, simplify: This is AFSO 21 in purest form, distinguish between short cuts and efficiencies and maximize efficiencies; cut out the middleman as much as possible and get to the customer directly. Almost done, eighth, improve: take a common thing and make it better. Can you imagine how difficult it is to make "new and improved" baked beans? There must be things around your work areas that are commonplace that could be made better with a little imagination. Ninth, surprise others with your exceptional service and energy. And lastly, inject some entertainment into your day and relationships with others. Take a few minutes to get to know your co-workers in a new way and maybe pass along an article that might interest them from your favorite magazine.

This may be a spark into an otherwise dull day. If you don't like your situation, change it. If you take a good hard look at the situation, you may find that what needs changing is you, try a few of these tricks on the way home today and for the rest of the week. In no time, there will be change and added energy along with a contagious spirit of teamwork that will be nothing short of exceptional.