Thursday, November 4, 2010

COMMENTARY>>High Standards – No Apologies!

By Col. Mark Czelusta
314th Airlift Wing commander

Last month we discussed our perspective on the mission as leadership theme No. 1. As you recall, our mission is one that we take personally as a reflection of individual contributions to our Air Force during these challenging times. For the 314th Airlift Wing, that sense is embodied in the phrase, “Everyone is an instructor.”

Let’s springboard off this perspective and talk about our second leadership theme: standards. Our standards are high and without apology.

I know we have all heard it and we all have even fallen into the trap of repeating it: “The minimum wouldn’t be the minimum if it wasn’t good enough.” Few phrases are more corrosive to a unit’s success. For us as Airmen, the minimum is largely irrelevant, for our core value of excellence demands that we always perform to our best with a sense of “raising the bar.” Never forget the 314th Airlift Wing prides itself as being a “Center of Excellence” and not the “Center of Satisfactory.”

Oftentimes, discussions of standards become mired in emotion – and for no good reason. The way physical fitness testing has become a lightening rod is just one example. Let’s be clear: haircuts, uniform wear, customs and courtesies, and physical fitness matter ... they are standards and indicators of the sense of pride, professionalism and spirit within a unit. A unit that looks and conducts itself with high standards in these areas will probably accomplish its mission well, too. Sadly, the opposite is also true. Bottom line: through my 21 years of service, I have not seen this rule proven otherwise and I don’t expect any changes soon.

But don’t forget that, particularly when it comes to our daily tasks as operators, maintainers and mission support professionals, standards also include items such as tech order and regulatory compliance, communication skills, checklist discipline and so on. Never let someone say compliance hinders mission accomplishment. To the contrary, compliance guarantees mission accomplishment. By the way, compliance is inherently safe too.

Standards include our professional ethics. And again, the minimum standard is irrelevant when compared to doing what is right.

Just because something is “allowed” doesn’t always mean it is right. I encourage everyone to remember this when we write performance reports, file travel vouchers and make official – and unofficial – statements.

Finally, standards are self-sufficient and independent of relativism. Unit “X’s” or base “Y’s” failure to uphold a standard or simply pursue the minimum does not at all suggest we should follow suit. Society’s abandonment of a certain ethic means little to us. One example is performance reporting. You are not “ruining” anyone’s career by fairly, accurately and uniformly reporting on individual performance against high standards. When it comes to our role in this process, I will always argue for “standards inflation” over “EPR/OPR inflation.” Parallels to this example can be drawn in all areas of professional, technical and ethical standards. For us at Team Little Rock, standards well beyond the minimum are not the “target” or some “goal,” they are the expectation. In the end, what goes on in other units or bases when it comes to standards falls squarely in the category of “interesting, but not compelling.”

If you think about it, standards are the Air Force’s way of demonstrating concretely that our contribution matters. If our contribution didn’t matter, there wouldn’t be a standard against it. Don’t be afraid of standards beyond the minimum ... embrace them, stick to them and enforce them. Safe, effective and decisive mission accomplishment – and deep pride – will no doubt follow.

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