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Making a difference in our 21st Century Air Force

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- The program, Program Budget Decision 720, and similar programs, have gone a long way toward trimming the "fat" from America's Air Force.

Our increasing reliance upon technology and associated personnel cuts makes contributions of those of us remaining in the military service all the more important. As such, every Airman not only can, but must, strive to make a positive difference in our respective daily jobs, regardless of rank or position.

The challenge, though, is in fostering a workplace which inspires creativity and permits leeway, while retaining a requisite level of structure compatible with military service. The solution boils down to the interaction between three principal players: the commander, supervisor, and subordinates.

Not surprisingly, the unit commander sets the overall tone for how Airmen at all levels relate to one another in the workplace.

A commander who clearly communicates his intent and sets expectations from the start is laying the foundation for a unit that will flourish and achieve great things. Conversely, a commander who fails to do either of these is unintentionally crippling his unit and keeping it from attaining its full potential.

While critically important, the commander, however, is only a part of the picture in inspiring a unit to fulfill its capabilities.

Equally as important as the commander's intent and setting of expectations is the role of the supervisor in creating a positive work environment.

There are many areas factoring into creating a positive workplace, but the most critical factor in terms of overall production is empowerment. Webster's dictionary defines empowerment as giving power or authority to someone.

If we are to get the most productivity out of our people, subordinates at all levels must be given the tools to succeed. Those tools begin with knowing they have the authority to make decisions on their own.

We as supervisors must not forget that we retain the responsibility for the decisions and choices our Airmen make. We cannot delegate responsibility. We can, however, delegate decision-making authority to those doing the work.

In the end, the folks we truly empower will be enabled to accomplish so much more than would have ever been possible had the decisions been made for them from above.

The subordinate is the key piece of the puzzle in realizing a positive work environment.

Once truly empowered, it's critical that we as subordinates look for opportunities to take advantage of our decision-making authority. Whether you're our newest Airman or most senior officer, there are an abundance of opportunities to take the initiative and make a real impact here at Eielson, both inside and outside our gates.

Although plagiarism and cheating are unacceptable in an academic sense, there's no reason to reinvent the wheel if it makes sense to use someone else's program you've seen work well elsewhere.

If there was a program at your last base that will work well here, talk to your former co-workers to find out how it worked. Find out what it took to get it started. More importantly, find out what it took to sustain the program.

Armed with that information, take the proposal to your supervisor and figure out how to make it fit here at Eielson. Ultimately, there's no limit to what we can do as a unit if we're all looking for ways to make things better.

As well as using this advice, it is likewise good to use caution.

Commanders and supervisors can talk all day about intent, expectations, and empowerment, but if that's not the message reaching the most-junior subordinate, it's all for naught.

Deeds, not words, are what really tell the story within an organization. Our young Airmen, junior NCOs, and new lieutenants need to be challenged with programs and projects of their own and not just those programs which are inconsequential.

Let our young folks make decisions ... and again, not just those that are inconsequential. If every time something "important" comes up and you jump in to make the decision, you're definitely communicating a message ... and I promise you it's not one of empowerment.

Will mistakes happen along the way if we let our young folks make choices? Of course they will. What's important, though, is what we take away from those mistakes. We can all learn lessons for next time to keep that sort of mistake from happening again.

More importantly is the development of not only the Airman you put your trust into, but also that Airman's peers. Over time, they'll evolve into our next generation of professional Airmen ready for bigger and better things. They'll be able to go on to make a difference in America's 21st century Air Force.