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How to Improve? Get REAL

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Wilma Shively
  • 3rd Aerial Port Squadron commander
Several months ago I attended an NCO Academy graduation dinner at Ramstein AB, Germany. The guest speaker spoke to the graduating class on being a leader, using a four-letter acronym he devised to define what he felt were some attributes of a leader. Coining a phrase he learned from his teenage son, he told them to, "Get REAL." 

The speaker went on to define each letter of the acronym. "R" stood for responsibility, for being accountable for your actions. "E" represented education (if I remember correctly). "A" was for attitude -- you control your attitude, and it's reflected in your work, affects your peers, your subordinates. All good points. By the time the speaker got to the letter "L," a couple of us looked at each other and said leadership. We knew this one - or so we thought. But, we were wrong. "L," the speaker told us, stands for "leave it better than you found it." My ears perked up. He had my attention before, but now I was definitely interested. His last point really started me thinking that night. 

Leave it better than you found it. What a great idea to impart to up-and-coming leaders in today's Air Force. And what a great reminder to those of us who have been around awhile and may have become focused on other issues, such as settling for just getting the mission done or just meeting standards. How do we go about leaving things better than we found them? How do we do that here at Pope? After all, Pope won 52 Air Mobility Command and Air Force level awards in 2005. How do you improve on that? 

Well, you may belong to a No. 1 squadron in AMC or Air Force last year, or you may have been recognized as the best Airman or NCO or civilian in your career field. You get in there, do the mission and do it well -- every day. You get great results. But that doesn't mean there aren't things that can be improved. Now is a good time to step back and take a hard look at what you do. Look at your daily processes. Really evaluate them -- take them apart. Conduct a rapid improvement event. Value stream map your processes. Look at what are "value-added" steps for your customers -- both internal and external. Can we improve service to our customers? Reduce our workload? Make things better for everyone involved? You bet we can. 

Many of you have participated in a RIE, had continuous process improvement training. Some are trained facilitators. Get educated on AFSO21, Lean and other similar programs and tools. There are RIEs going on across the base. Maybe you've streamlined processes already. In the 3rd Aerial Port Squadron, we've reduced our deploying passenger processing times on departure days from five and a half to two hours. A new RIE is commencing to look at the EPR/OPR process and how we can streamline the process. By taking part in these events, you are involved in continuous process improvement. Take responsibility for processes you can affect, adopt a positive attitude and get involved. 

What about the unit compliance inspection? It's looming on the horizon. A UCI is an inspection where the team evaluates the base for compliance in safety, work-place regulations, Department of Defense directives and laws, in addition to identifying best practices. In preparation for a UCI we spend countless hours running through checklists, correcting the smallest (and sometimes not so small) deficiencies, finding areas that need to be or can be improved, so that when the inspection team arrives, we have all our "i"s dotted and our "t"s crossed. So, review the checklists and learn the programs for which you're responsible. Do it with a positive attitude. What will all this achieve? Well, if we've been as thorough as we think, perhaps it'll earn an "Excellent" or an "Outstanding" rating. But it will definitely have left things better than we found them.
There are many ways you can contribute to improving the Air Force, the environment you work in, and processes that affect you and your fellow Airmen. Just take responsibility, project a positive attitude and always -- leave things better than you found them. Get REAL.