Leadership, discipline: everyone’s responsibility

Year of Leadership Graphic

Year of Leadership Graphic

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Recently, as I was heading to wing physical training, a young senior airman who I have known for some time pulled me aside and said, "See that girl over there?"

He pointed to a female in PT gear and asked, "Shouldn't she have her shirt tucked in?".
"Yep," I responded. "She should definitely have her shirt tucked in. What are you going to do about it?" He looked at me as if I had started speaking a foreign language and explained, "I told you about it, what else am I supposed to do?"

Air Force Space Command recently began the Year of Leadership. As we enter the month of October, we are asked to focus on discipline. Admittedly, discipline is a pretty broad subject that we could approach from any number of perspectives.

Maybe the best way to start is to ask ourselves that very question: "What else am I supposed to do?" Is discipline the First Sergeant's job? Is it the Chief's job? Or is it a responsibility that we all share? I'll bet you already know the answer.

One could argue that discipline, if we are talking about progressive discipline and working our way up the administrative action ladder, really is the responsibility of the supervisor, first sergeant, chief and commander. But not every little issue requires paperwork and, I am willing to bet, that if a few more people got in on the action, there would be a lot less paper required.

This young lady at the gym is a good example; there are many ways this could play out. Let's look at two basic scenarios at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Scenario one: She hangs out in the gym for a while with her shirt tail out. At some point, she puts her sunglasses on her head to free her hands. And on the way to meet for wing PT, she grabs her MP3 player out of her car. By the time she gets to the formation, everyone has seen her, and there is more than one first sergeant or chief willing to help her understand the proper wear of the PT uniform. It is also likely that at least one of those first sergeants or chiefs is going to ask for her name and unit of assignment. Word is going to get back, and we will very well be on our way to the paperwork aspect of discipline.

Scenario two: My young senior airman friend takes her aside and helps her out by politely explaining our wing policy for wear of PT gear. He may be nervous, and she may be a little sarcastic, but at the end of the day she is all sorted out in a much less threatening way.

There is definitely learning to be found in both scenarios. However, scenario two has much better lessons for both. She is saved the embarrassment that comes with being called out in public and knowing that a lot of folks are going to be talking about her today. She has also been provided a tremendous example of leadership in a young Airman who had the courage to enforce standards and do his part to help maintain discipline. He learned that he is capable of enforcing standards. As long as he handles the situation with tact and approaches the individual respectfully, discipline really does begin with him.

As we spend this month focused on discipline, I challenge each of you to ask yourself, "What else can I do?" Discipline begins within each and every one of us - active duty, Guard, Reserve or civilian. We make the decision to follow the rules, even the ones we think are silly or inconvenient. And we follow them even when we think no one is looking, on base or off. (Yep, that means we wear our hats when standing in our driveways at our off-base residences.)

That decision easily allows us to take the second step of enforcing standards and doing our part in maintaining discipline in our Air Force. The step is simply helping our fellow Airmen when they misunderstand or forget the standard by tactfully pointing them in the right direction. Discipline doesn't just fall into the lap of First Sergeants, Chiefs and Commanders by virtue of position. It is a tremendous responsibility given to all of us.

That day at the gym I asked the young senior airman what he would do if I weren't there. Would he walk by the problem or would he stop and correct the young lady? I watched as he walked up and spoke quietly with her; she tucked her shirt in and went on to PT.

(Editor's Note: This article is one of several highlighting the Air Force Space Command Year of Leadership and its focus on discipline)