Air Force needs problem solvers

  • Published
  • By Col. Rose Jourdan
  • 460th Mission Support Group Commander
Today's Air Force is not the same Air Force I raised my hand to join in 1992. It is significantly smaller than it was then, and the way we fight and win wars is also different. In many ways, we are stronger, more effective and more efficient. It's not just because we want to be; it's because we have to be. The days of deep financial coffers and healthy manpower are behind us. Ahead of us are challenging times, and the Air Force needs our continued hard work, initiative and innovation in order for us to continue to accomplish the missions our nation is counting on us to perform.

As part of the 460th Space Wing commander's Strategic Guidance, Col. John Wagner, charges all leaders to strive to make our organizations better than we found them. When he says leaders, does that just mean the wing, group, and squadron officer and enlisted leaders? I believe when he says leaders, he means each and every member of this wing. Sure, the senior leaders must cultivate a climate that fosters and rewards process improvement and inspires innovation at every level, but initiative to develop process improvements and an innovative spirit lies in each of us - from our most junior to our most senior enlisted, officers and civilians. Each of us owes it to our units, to our leadership and to the Airmen we lead and serve with to maximize our effectiveness and efficiency in light of our fiscally constrained environment.

How important is initiative at every level?  Critical! Can each of us play a role in improving our unit?  Absolutely!

There is a book that I've mentioned to the members of the 460th Mission Support Group. It is entitled, "The Dog Poop Initiative: A True  Story," by Kirk Weisler. It looks like a children's book. The words rhyme, there are colorful illustrations, and there aren't many words on the pages. However, the story holds a very powerful lesson in leadership. I have the book at my desk if you ever want to read it.

The story is about how a man and his dog went for a walk in the park and the owner looked away while his dog downloaded a hot, steamy mess on the soccer field and left it there. Throughout the day, people kept pointing to the mess, lamenting about it, getting upset at whoever caused it and talking about how to avoid it. It became perilous at times when the children were trying to play soccer and in the heat of the action nearly stepped on or fell into it. People made sure they pointed out the problem to new arrivals to the park so they could do their best to avoid the mess just as they had.

Later that day, a father and son arrived at the field and the pointers began their cautionary briefing to ensure the father and son avoided the mess. This father was different. Instead of avoiding and pointing and blaming, he took some initiative. He found something to use as a scoop and unceremoniously cleaned up the poop! He saw a problem and, instead of avoiding it, pretending it wasn't there or spending time finding out who was to blame, he scooped it up - no problem!

There is a leadership message here for all of us. There are many problems that we come across every day. How we deal with those problems distinguishes us as leaders. Col. Wagner has empowered each of us to make our organizations better than we found them - that means we are empowered to develop improved processes, to take the initiative and to be innovative as we collectively strive to meet that goal. 

I challenge each of you, as I challenge myself every day. If you see a problem and it is within your authority to fix, fix it. If you see a problem and it isn't within your authority to fix, channel it up to someone who can. Be a scooper. Our fellow Airmen are looking for examples of scoopers - or problem solvers - to emulate. Be one, because it is the scoopers who lead the way and make things better for all of us.