Thursday, March 19, 2009

What I Learned...

Without being pretentious I’ll try to share some observations I have made over the years. First a little background. I started my military service in 1955 by joining the Naval Reserve (Seabees). My service was uneventful for the most part and after being discharged in 1963, I continued to work in Oak Ridge, TN at the weapons facility run by Union Carbide for the Atomic Energy Commission. During these “Formative Years” I began to realize my responsibilities as a husband and father. Upon graduation from college I contacted the Air Force and entered Officer Training School at Lackland AFB in Aug., 1964. After various schools and 3 yrs in Japan and a year in Vietnam, I spent 16 more years in the Tennessee Air National Guard. Among other assignments, I was the Commander of the Mobile Aerial Port SQ. So………What did I learn during those years that might be of interest and helpful to you?

TEAMWORK: Learning to work with others is not a “con job”, rather it is a skill that empowers you to lead and accomplish more than could be realized without the convergence of various talents targeting a common goal. Strive to exceed normal expectations, find a mentor, and look for ways to increase your job knowledge that makes you more valuable to the organization. When dealing with others, learn to listen. All good ideas don’t come from the top. Sell your ideas to the team members and, if they have stock in the idea, they will work harder to make it succeed. Acknowledge exceptional performance. It motivates team players to maximize their efforts. One way to stifle initiative is to say: “No, that won’t work, we’ve already tried that!” Simply treat others as you would like to be treated, with respect and the concept that they are working “with” you rather than “for” you. Respect is earned rather than conferred.

EDUCATION: Anytime you can improve your job knowledge through education, seize the opportunity. Education makes you more effective in your job and enhances your chance for advancement and promotion.

LEADERSHIP: Think of someone you respect and are enthusiastic about their goals. It goes hand and hand with respect on and off the job. If you emulate those qualities, others will want to follow your path to excel. I can remember talking to an airman in Vietnam about his ambitions when he returned to the “World”. He said he hated the Air Force, didn’t want of be in Vietnam and that his job was boring. I asked him to think about the job he could get when he got out and what training he had to get a good civilian job. I stressed that the attitude, work habits and performance would be mirrored in his approach to his new job. Once he bought into this scenario, his attitude improved, his performance improved and I’ll bet he went on to be a success in his civilian job.

DISCIPLINE: It took me a while before I learned that I had to discipline myself. Once you learn to take responsibility for your own actions, you are on the right road. Nobody can do it for you, whether it’s your job, your family life, your studies, or your attitude toward your co-workers and boss.

ORGANIZATION: Sir Hillary didn’t end up on Mt. Everest because he decided to go out for a walk. He had a plan! His goal was to climb Mt. Everest but he managed to break that plan down into its elements i.e. supplies, Sherpas, finances, itinerary etc. What is your plan? What are you doing to map out your approach to make the plan become reality? Share your plan with your mentor and test the validity of your thinking. Is it realistic and achievable?

CONFIDENCE: If you will do the things I have mentioned, confidence is the by-product. By following a solid plan there is no reason not to expect success. It’s a building process, the more you succeed, the more confident you are in seeking more difficult and lofty goals.
I can’t think of a better place to gain these elements of success than in today’s Air Force. Where else could you get the opportunities, support and funding to set and reach your dreams. AIM HIGH!

James A. Van Eynde
Lt Col, USAF, Ret.
President, AFA Cook Chapter
Memphis, TN

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