Give yourself altitude

  • Published
  • By Albert M. Woolley III
  • 460th Force Support Squadron Director
I am no different than most leaders.

I draw upon my experiences and observations when asked to articulate something that I have learned about leadership. So with that said, I will share with you a concept that I did not make up, but rather received, during a Joint Leadership Conference in Washington D.C. sometime around February 2004.

The architect of this concept was an Air Force colonel who gave me a new way of thinking that has stuck with me for the last 10 years.

The leadership concept is recovering from mistakes.  When discussing this issue, we have to frame it within the context of two basic certainties that exist in the Air Force. The first certainty is that people should be treated as individuals and understood in terms of the whole person context versus the context of a snapshot in time when a mistake is made. The second certainty is simply that everyone, no matter your background or grade, makes mistakes. According to the Air Force colonel, the key to recovering from mistakes is to "Give yourself altitude!"

When young pilots first learn to fly and perform complex maneuvers, they are not instructed to do so close to the ground. When a mistake is made - and mistakes will be made - the pilot would have little to no chance of recovery and would likely crash and burn if performing the maneuver closer to the ground. Instead, maneuvers are performed at high altitudes so when a mistake is made, the new pilot has time to correct the mistake and safely continue the mission. 

The question is how does this relate to Airmen who do not fly? For grounded Airmen, this means going above and beyond in your jobs every day. Every time you achieve something remarkable, this adds to your altitude. Every time you make a mistake, you lose altitude. The greater the mistake, the greater the loss of altitude. This is important because when you make a mistake and lose altitude, your mistake should be weighed against the whole person concept, which includes all of your achievements and the level of altitude you have achieved.  If you have gained a safe altitude, your recovery will be more assured.

The lesson is this: Everyone makes mistakes and your mistakes will be judged against the whole person concept.  When you make a mistake, your recovery will be more assured if you have given yourself enough altitude.  Go above and beyond in your duties every day. Do remarkable things and give yourself altitude so that you may recover when mistakes are made and continue your mission.