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Get in the wheelbarrow

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- After completing a highly dangerous tightrope walk over Niagara Falls in appalling wind and rain, 'The Great Zumbrati' was met by an enthusiastic supporter, who urged him to make a return trip, this time pushing a wheelbarrow, which the spectator had thoughtfully brought along.

The Great Zumbrati was reluctant, given the terrible conditions, but the supporter pressed him, "You can do it - I know you can," he urged. You really believe I can do it?" asked Zumbrati. "Yes, definitely - you can do it," the supporter gushed.

"Okay," said Zumbrati, "Get in the wheelbarrow."

How many times have you heard a supervisor or commander say, "You can do it" or "Make it happen" - probably often. These words are very easy to say but the trust, belief and commitment that it can be done are much more difficult to earn.

Are we ready to get in the wheelbarrow? I think we wouldn't hesitate if we were confident that Zumbrati was well trained, experienced and motivated; that the wheelbarrow was of the best design and materials; and that the tightrope was securely fastened and recently inspected.

As leaders we ask our people to do many things in support of the unit and Air Force missions. Many of these tasks are complex, labor intensive, very demanding and some even potentially dangerous.

So how is it that our Airmen do such great things every day in our Air Force - and enthusiastically walk that tightrope?

A major reason is the trust and confidence that our Airmen have placed in their leadership. Their beliefs do not come easy, but must be earned by the supervisor or commander.

You can start by understanding exactly what you are asking your Airmen to accomplish. To do this you have to be ready and willing to get "down in the trenches" and see what is really happening.

Often, this is the only way to accurately assess training, equipment and processes as well as identifying any potential roadblocks to mission performance.

You need to know your peoples' capabilities and when it may be more appropriate to say, "No, we can't do that." This might be for many good reasons such as a lack of manning, training or equipment.

Whatever the reason, making this decision is not easy and goes counter to the "can-do" attitude most of us have in the Air Force.

However, this is a key component of earning trust from our subordinates. As we move into the future we will continue to have great challenges in a smaller and different Air Force.

As leaders we have to be sure we cultivate this trust by showing our confidence in our Airmen and that we ensure they have the best training, equipment and experience to accomplish the unit's mission essential tasks.

If we succeed in this endeavor, our Airmen will walk any tightrope we ask, and we will have the confidence to get in that wheelbarrow with them!