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The dreaded family photo

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- I really like the holiday season, with one small exception ... the dreaded family photo. Each year, my wife sets out specific clothes for everyone to wear so the kids will match and we'll all be "coordinated." The family photo is one of those crucial leadership times where I've learned to grin and bear it. 

A couple of years ago, we sat down together on a Sunday afternoon following church to take our family photo. As the dad, I thought we could all sit down, cut a few cheesy grins, and I'd snap some quick photos using the remote trigger on my digital camera. Well, the kids were restless, hungry, tired and the family photo turned into the family fight. Jonny won't hold still, McKinley keeps stating how hungry she is, our 7-month old spits up and I respond by raising my voice and speaking sharply. It didn't take long before the family was in pure crisis mode with three kids crying and my wife stressed to the max.

And then God took pity on me and gave me some insight on how to bail us out. I started to laugh a little bit and challenged my kids to see who could make the craziest face for the picture.

It only took about two photos for the whole family to get the idea. We took pictures with frowny faces, smiley faces, and finger-in-the-mouth faces. These were followed by pulling the hair pictures, family hug pictures and squish mom pictures. 

Somewhere near the end I said, "Everyone look serious picture." The result was a classic grumpy old-time photo. For the last two pictures, I challenged everyone to "give it your best smile." Everyone managed a good smile, and the 2004 family photo was born. I have always remembered how bringing a sense of humor into this situation controlled an explosively charged nosedive and turned it into a touching family tradition. Every year we now take about 20 zany photos and then get around to some with pleasant smiles once the kids have let out some energy.

A good sense of humor has the same effect on our work life as it did in this home life situation. I was reading a recent Bits & Pieces on Leadership article that stated, "Almost nothing is more helpful in dealing with people than a sense of humor. Now, a sense of humor doesn't necessarily mean a knack for telling jokes. Rather, it means the ability to take some setbacks and still see that the world has not come to an end."

If you can keep from taking a situation or yourself too seriously, you'll get much better results. If you don't take yourself too seriously, there are always things in any situation that are still amusing, that you can still smile about. And a smiling, cheerful leader invariably wins more cooperation than a grim and gloomy one.

If all you do in a crisis is add to the heat and confusion, people will soon lose respect for your ability to work under pressure. But if you can maintain your sense of proportion and humor when the world seems to be falling apart, people who rely on you will show their appreciation in better work and greater loyalty.

We have many challenges in the Air Force today. Some of them aren't much fun at all, but there is always a way to traverse through every challenge. It will often require us to take a step back, go outside for fresh air, or even leave something over a weekend so it can be looked at again on Monday, but there is a solution there.

I'm convinced that if we can look these challenges in the face and manage to keep our perspective and smile, we will, in the end, come out having done the right thing. This is important for every person on Eielson AFB, and we'll be in better physical, mental and spiritual health if we can develop this skill. 

Additionally, we'll be able to assist in carrying the burden of our coworkers and families just by our demeanor. This is the stewardship that we all bear. So the next time you're in a situation that starts to turn into a nosedive, think of someway to keep your perspective and sense of humor to get you, your organization and your family through. You will certainly gain the respect of your coworkers and family members and their confidence in your leadership ability in times of trial will grow.