What do you believe?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Tom Smith
  • 460th Mission Support Squadron Commander
Many years ago, a wing commander who had just selected me to be her executive officer sat me down to conduct my initial feedback. The approach she used has stayed with me over the years and I want to share it with you.

She started the feedback by taking out a small three-ring binder that contained a well-worn set of slides entitled, "What I Believe." It was nothing more than 15 Powerpoint slides with various quotes or phrases on them.

Each slide was very simple but clearly made a point. She went through each one of them with me, talking briefly about each slide. When she was done, in just a very short period of time, I felt I'd gained a remarkable insight into her both personally and professionally. 

She then turned to discussing the usual topics one expects in an initial feedback session: duties, roles, expectations, etc. But when we came to the end of the session, she again pulled out her "What I Believe" binder and told me that by the end of the week I needed to have a similar binder of my own.

I have to confess that my initial thought was that it would be very pompous and arrogant for a young captain to have such a binder. After all, who really cares what a junior guy like me believes? My second thought was to wonder if she'd really like what I might put in such a binder. And almost as if she was reading my mind, she told me, "The binder is not for me, it's for you."

I'll be honest; I didn't really get her point at the time. But as time has gone by I've come to understand what she was telling me. 

You see, there is a certain value in having this kind of a succinct summary of what you believe in written form. Just the process of putting it together in the first place forces you to clarify your own thoughts and beliefs in subtle but important ways. Also, over time you'll hear things said, or read things that you find so compelling you may choose to add them to your binder as well. 

What I didn't realize at the time was that in tasking me to build that binder, she was giving me a tool to teach me to think about what I believe and to refine those beliefs over time. It is one of the most valuable things I've ever learned.

I'd like to share several of the thoughts in my binder with you here, both to illustrate the kind of things such a binder might contain, but also to get you thinking about what you might put in your own binder.

What I Believe: 

-- God, Family, Service, Self 

-- "If you have integrity, that's all that matters. If you don't have integrity, that's all that matters." - Senator Alan Simpson 

-- Honest people make honest mistakes ... admit to them ... and try to make things right. 

-- "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." - Thomas Edison 

-- "Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much, nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat." - Theodore Roosevelt (In other words...if you're not making honest mistakes you're not trying hard enough!)

-- "If you don't know what's important, everything's important. If everything's important, you try to do everything. You try to do everything, then people expect you to do everything. If people expect you to do everything, then you don't have enough time to determine what's important." - Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Bob Gaylor

-- "With all thy getting, get understanding" - Gordon B. Hinckley (In other words, seek first to understand and then to be understood). 

-- "If you work for a man, in heaven's name work for him; speak well of him and stand by the institution he represents. Remember, an ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness." - Elbert Hubbard

-- "The commander in the field is always right and the rear echelon always wrong, unless proved otherwise." - Colin Powell (In other words, don't assume you know more about a given situation than the person closest to it!)

-- Optimism and enthusiasm are force multipliers. They are also contagious! 

-- If you want to get respect, give respect.

-- Take your work seriously, but never yourself.

I hope reviewing some of "What I Believe" got you thinking about what you believe. If so, I challenge you to find succinct ways of capturing those beliefs and start putting them in your own binder or similar format. If you do, I promise you'll find yourself reflecting on what you believe more and more often. And those beliefs will similarly guide your conduct more and more often.