“Have you heard? The bird is the word.” In this episode, I reflect on my recent selection to be promoted to the rank of Colonel in the United States Air Force. I phrase my thoughts by responding to the simple question, “Now what?” I’ve worked for almost twenty years to climb this mountain, so what happens when you reach the summit? This isn’t a simple question to answer, but I have some initial thoughts to keep me motivated to continue to lead from the front.
Here are some of my initial responses to the question “now what?”
Learn what it means to serve as a Colonel. I’ve worked for several Colonels who were pulled to the side early in their promotion and told “You may think you know how to be a Colonel, but you don’t know shit. We need to teach you, so pay attention.” I often thought “Wait a minute, we are promoted because the Air Force has determined we have demonstrated the potential to serve at the next rank, so we should be good, right?” Apparently not. I’m going to take this advice and really dive into learning what it means to serve as Colonel. There are some new connections I’ll make, new challenges to take on, and ultimately an elevated role where we are trusted to groom the next generation of senior officers in the Air Force. I can’t wait to learn more!
Be there for my family. My wife and kids won’t see any difference when I eventually pin on my eagle. I’m still the husband who puts gas in the cars and doesn’t close the cabinet doors all the way, and I’m still the dad who will embarrass my kids if they don’t say “I love you Dad” publicly and will dance aggressively if the right song comes on in the store. I equally work hard to make sure my family stays strong and together despite me not being able to hold down a solid job in one location. The ride will continue for a few more years, which means I have to make sure we never lose each other along the way.
Maintain the same level of urgency as a young officer to make positive change. Resting on my laurels is not an option. I want to have the same type of energy and motivation I have had since the beginning of my career. That positive attitude can be infectious to others if used correctly. I’m not saying I need to try to fit in with the younger crowd, but I do need to understand how best to communicate across multiple generations because that’s who is serving next to me.
Avoid becoming a bureaucratic roadblock. As Uncle Ben says, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Part of that responsibility is to actually make decisions and take timely actions. It will be inevitable that due to an increase in rank that I will get entangled in senior-level decision-making processes. However, that doesn’t mean I just need to fall into the same trap of inaction and endless debate. We will never have all of the manpower, money, or time to accomplish our assigned missions. My job is to help manage risk and keep moving forward, not be an impediment to progress.
Remember where you came from. This is advice that my Dad gave to me on my first day as a commissioned officer in the Air Force and I’ve done my best to remember this and live by it. I’m a proud military brat and son of a Chief Master Sergeant, so I better act like it. My success is clearly aligned to the hard work of the men and women I have the privilege to lead, so I must continue to honor their service and sacrifice by putting their success ahead of mine.
Continue to be the leader I want to work for. The rank on my uniform may change, but the genuine interaction I have with my teammates must remain me. I’m not above anyone’s opinion or perspective, I just have a different set of responsibilities. As a leader, I’m responsible for the success of everything external to me: the mission and the people who execute the mission. My measure of success is based on how I can positively affect those things, not myself.
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