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News > Commentary - Saying No To “Yes Men”
Saying No To “Yes Men”

Posted 1/18/2011   Updated 1/18/2011 Email story   Print story


Commentary by Lt Col Jason E. Corrothers
21st Comptroller Squadron commander

1/18/2011 - PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- You've seen them, I've seen them, we've all seen them - the "yes men". You know who I'm talking about - the person that's the first to agree with the boss, the one who has that special knack for catering to the ego. The one that says things like, "Sir yes sir, two bags full". Okay, maybe they don't say things quite like that anymore, but you get the idea. I submit to each of you that we need to challenge ourselves and say "no" and that in doing so we'll move this wing, this command and this Air Force to new heights.

In discussions of leadership, we often hear about two sides of the same coin - leadership and followership. As I share my thoughts with you today, I'd like to hit upon a concept that links to each - the criticality of critical thinking. Not only as a commander, but as a fellow Airman, one of the traits I've come to admire the most is courage. Here, I mean courage not in the wartime sense of taking a hill against insurmountable odds, or in family terms of volunteering your house for a slumber party of ten-plus kids (don't get me wrong, each takes real guts). What I mean in this case is intellectual courage. That confidence and conviction to speak up and challenge conventional thinking - even if it means saying no, while the others are saying yes.

In my estimation, the strength of the Air Force lies not in its technology (which is stunning by all accounts) but in its people. It's our people that make us the world's greatest Air Force. It's our people that possess the ideas that make the unimaginable reality. Knowing this, I think it's personally and professionally important that we look to foster a climate that values critical thinking - in all ranks. We're stronger as an organization when we listen for the "no". When we listen for the dissenting view, we open ourselves up to additional possibilities and ultimately additional insights that allow for better decision-making. As Airmen, we owe that to our leaders - to critically think through recommendations or ideas and offer our own inputs. Simply remaining silent or doing the bobble-head dance compromises the heights to which our organizations can achieve.

I'm not encouraging you to shoot down what your boss or peers are trying to do. I'm encouraging you to take an active part in finding a way to make what they're trying to do better by thinking of ways to improve upon it - and that's not often done by simply saying "yes". When ideas are tee'd up by the boss, it's an easy out to say "Yes Ma'am/Yes Sir - great idea". However, the real value and the real courage comes in saying "I see where you're going, but have you thought about this...what about trying it this way?" That's the kind of person I want to serve with. Good leaders don't and shouldn't need ego boosts (though feel free to complement me on my aerodynamic haircut or amazing wife). What good leaders need most are folks with the intellectual courage to challenge existing ideas and processes and those committed to seeing this Air Force "Fly, Fight and Win" in astonishing fashion.

So what say you - "Yes" or "No"?

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