Pride in work helps quality of life: Recognizing Airmen

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- Quality of life has nothing to do with how nice your conference room is or how cosmic your cell phone is. It is not even about pay raises, which may put a few more beans in your pot but does not fundamentally alter quality of life.

When you wake up in the morning, look at yourself in the mirror, and say, "I am proud to serve in the United States Air Force." That is quality of life. When this ceases to happen, when our Airmen's DNA and fiber change and they decide to change uniforms, we have failed to understand what makes them tick.

Effective leadership gets out of the office and engages Airmen. There is no substitute for a hands-on, one-on-one approach. All levels of leadership should coach subordinates to aspire to the next level. Airmen should want to become NCOs, flight commanders should want to become squadron commanders, and so on.

If staff and technical sergeants are not talking to airmen about becoming NCOs and teaching lessons from the school of hard knocks, they are not doing their job.

We all have to work retention, and we retain one Airman at a time. We need to retain our experience, not just our numbers. Good leaders who coach and care for their Airmen have a dramatic effect on retention. Retention comes down to Airmen going home at night feeling good about who they are and the positive contributions they make, as well as knowing they are important, valued members of a team.

Clearly we need to pay more attention to recognition. Many of us remember going through the Quality Air Force movement. Although well intended, it produced some bizarre behavior for military organizations. The process became more important than the product, accomplishment of the mission. Some even misunderstood empowering subordinates to the detriment of regulations and checklist compliance. The touchstone for each of us is to do what is right. We must advocate for resources to go with taskings; communicate three levels deep: mentor, coach and lead. If we tend to the basics, all the other stuff will take care of itself and we'll have a quality team.

The product is more important than the process. But if the product is deficient we have to reexamine the process. We must develop metrics that measure what we do and then compare ourselves to a benchmark. We need to use these measures as an analytical tool to improve our product.

In reality, quality is simple: measure, compare and reward. Recognize all Airmen for their contributions, and be sure to reward superior performance. That's the stuff of pride and quality of life; the DNA of courage, conviction and communication.