Asking why

  • Published
  • By Col. Phil Heseltine
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

A few years ago, I had the unique privilege to spend time listening to and talking with Simon Sinek, author of The New York Times best seller, "Start with Why."  If you have not heard him speak, read his book, or perhaps watched any of his many TED Talk on-line presentations, I highly encourage you to do so.


The premise of Start with Why, is that many successful companies manage their organizations and focus their business models and marketing strategies on why they do what they do rather than how or what they produce.


So, knowing that, what does the common Air Force leadership statement, "Mission First ... People Always" say about us?  It says that everything we are and everything we do is about our mission.  Sinek suggests we should flip this to read, "People First ... Mission Always," making our mission the, "What it is" we do and our people the, "Why" in everything we do.


On the surface it doesn't look much different, but the strategic impact that message sends is powerful.


Sinek’s book also describes the personal reaction from individuals, which takes place whenever people make physical contact with each other.  He said these feelings, produced by the chemical oxytocin, are the same as those associated with deep friendship and love.  These human-contact-induced reactions create sensations of trust and emotions; very similar to the sense of bonds felt among groups who have experienced significant trials, hardships and even combat.


What's more interesting is you don't even have to make contact with someone to receive the same results.


Have you ever seen anyone stop to help a perfect stranger?  Did it make you smile? If so, it’s because that same oxytocin reaction occurs whenever we witness acts of kindness and generosity.


A good friend of mine started a squadron tradition of giving, "High-fives" on Fridays; which may seem pretty silly ... until you do it.  But, be forewarned, it is contagious.


On any given Friday across his wing, you could see active duty, guard and reserve flyers, maintainers and civilians, "high-fiving" each other.  Which provides a quick shot of oxytocin to get them through the day—everybody wins!


As leaders, our actions speak volumes.  Ask yourself this, how do you interact, communicate and recognize people within your organization, especially when they do well?  Do you send them an e-mail or perhaps a heartfelt text?


Imagine an Airman getting an email from you, buried among hundreds of bake sales and training notices, that says, nice work, thank you.  Okay, not too bad.


How do you think that same message would be received if you were to walk over to them, hand them a personally written letter? Or, if you simply can't get away, what if you were to pick up the phone and thank them personally?  Getting better.


Now, imagine that same young Airman whose commander or supervisor is standing in front of him, in his work center or at a commander's call, shaking his hand and saying, "Thank you" in front of his peers.  We have oxytocin flying now!


Acts of true leadership, generosity and kindness take time and have a lasting effect. And it's this, "Analog leadership" that builds trust within your organization by motivating and creating a sense of belonging among all our Airmen.


Ultimately, when we make people our why, in everything we do, and everything we are, at the end of the day, the mission will take care of itself.


On this sports day, I encourage you to step back from your computer, set down that iPhone, get out of your work section and high-five the next person you see. 

Happy Friday from Turbo 02…We Are A/R!