Teammates, first and foremost, I wish you and your families a happy holiday season! Whether you’re deployed abroad or in garrison, the holiday season provides a time for us to take a much-needed breath, and in some cases, it provides an opportunity to take a knee. It’s a time to reconnect with family and friends while reflecting on what’s truly important to each of us.
While the holidays are joyous for most, they can be stressful for others. They can bring back fond memories or remind you of times you’d rather forget. It’s important for us not to assume the mental or psychological state someone may be in, simply because we may be in a different space. Frequent and authentic communication around the holidays can make the world of difference for those around you.
Communication types are often described as written, verbal and non-verbal (body language). Regardless of the communication venue or the type being used, it is important for leaders to be visible, authentic and to do what is most often overlooked…listen actively.
The office landscape has changed a lot in the past two years because of the pandemic. Telework and other communication options have created connection gaps. We spend so much time emailing and texting, we don’t spend enough time talking to one another. It’s something the work force has grown accustomed to. If not careful, you will find yourself doing the same in your personal lives.
I specifically recall a recent time when I returned from a TDY and wanted to surprise my family with a nice family dinner I prepared. After verbally announcing dinner was ready with no response, I sent a group text to my wife and daughters. The three of them emerged from separate locations within the house, grabbed their food and everyone continued in their separate ways. It dawned on me the communication default with my own family under the same roof had become via text. I recalled thinking, “Oh no…I’ve become one of those.”
It occurred to me that even though my family had gotten used to my physical presence when not traveling for work, they also got used to me not being constructively present. My family had grown accustomed to doing things with or for themselves. I then decided I needed to make some changes within myself. Like many of us with demanding roles and responsibilities, it’s work in progress and a constant struggle.
In no way am I the person to give anyone professional or personal relationship advise on the benefits of being constructively present. My batting average in this area is nothing to brag about…I’m hitting a solid .250 at best. However, I do know a difference exists between the two. For us to reach, while enabling others to reach their full potential both personally and professionally, we need to be constructively present.
The ability for a leader to positively impact the careers or personal lives of Airmen depends on trust. Building trust starts with a leader’s ability to connect. Effective communication is a two-way street that requires an open mind to hear and attempt to understand someone else’s point of view. Hearing does not automatically equate to listening. Active listening requires us to be constructively present.
The next time you want to reach out to a coworker in the same building, try walking down the hall instead of sending an email. The next time you want to reach a friend or loved one, try calling them instead of texting. The next time an Airman or coworker walks into your office, stop typing, close your laptop and listen actively. The next time you are in the presence of Airmen, friends or those you claim are most important to you, ask yourself if you are just physically present or truly constructively present. If not the latter, reassess, readdress and reattack.
Please continue to take care of yourselves, your families and each other throughout the holiday season. As always, it is my honor and privilege to serve as your Command Chief.