Relationships in leadership

  • Published
  • By Maj. Michael Mealiff
  • 22nd Contracting Squadron

Please humor me and think about your favorite assignment or job. What made that assignment or job so special? Did you feel important? Did you feel respected? Did you feel your work mattered?


Though it is impossible to gather the data, I submit that every single one of you recalled a specific person or people that made that assignment or job remarkable. Those relationships we form are critical to our nation’s ability to provide lasting lethality worldwide.


With that, I will share the story of how my friendship with Capt. Chris Cochrane inspired me to be a better person and leader.     


It feels like just yesterday. I walked through the doors of Officer Training School just two years after finishing my six-year enlistment. There, I met my OTS bunkmate, Chris Cochrane. As soon as I met Cochrane I knew he was a man of passion and commitment.


To say the least, Cochrane immediately impressed me. In the following weeks, I learned about Cochrane’s passion for flying and all things fighter aircraft. He joked about experience as a civilian flight instructor. He already had over 1500 flying hours before coming to OTS and was one of a select group of civilians entering pilot training with corrective eye surgery.


Each day, Cochrane inspired me to be a better person and leader by giving me constant and honest feedback and support. But was not just me that benefited from his genuine care for his fellow Airmen, he made time to form relationships across the entire 07-07 OTS class.


At graduation, to show appreciation for Cochrane’s efforts, he received the Colonel Dick Scobee Leadership Award. Unfortunately, while at Laughlin Air Force Base for pilot training, Type 1 Diabetes ended his flying career.


However, Cochrane never gave up or quit. He immediately retrained where he excelled as an Air Force special operations intelligence officer. Then, during a deployment supporting United States Africa Command, he contracted an aggressive infection that caused him to have two strokes. 


Paralyzed on the right side, Cochrane still never wavered in his determination to help others. In June of 2016, then Retired Capt. Cochrane competed in the DoD Warrior Games earning one Gold and five Silver medals, and was voted by his teammates as the “Heart of the Team.”


Unfortunately, Cochrane passed away this past March. However, he continues to live on through those he inspired through meaningful relationships.    


To me, relationships provide the foundation that inspirational leadership is built upon. As a leader at any level, motivation enables short-term results but inspiration focuses on the long-term.


Next time you have a moment, take time out of your day to make a new connection. You never know when a life-long inspirational figure such as Cochrane may enter your life; or maybe you are the inspirational figure.


I invite you to start enjoying, growing and learning from your peers. Make this assignment a positive one to remember, and thank you for making me a better Airman.