Fostering Airmen's initiative

  • Published
  • By Col. Michael Hass
  • 18th Civil Engineer Group
Being an engineer, I tend to view the world through an engineer's eye. For instance, I see initiative much as I would view inertia. Inertia is when an object in motion tends to stay in motion, and an object at rest tends to stay at rest. 

To me, initiative works the same way. If you create an environment that overcomes the resting inertia and you get the ball rolling, good things begin to happen. 

How do we get the ball rolling? Well, that's leadership's job. It starts with a vision and proceeds from there. Our job then is to communicate that vision to our subordinates. 

This is where the initiative takes over. Resource and equip your folks for execution and then get out of the way. The leader's role from here is to reduce the amount of resistance and drag that can hinder the initiative of your people. It is always amazing to me what incredible ideas and sheer ingenuity is generated to reach the level of visioning of the leader. 

How does a leader keep the initiative rolling? I know there is no such thing as a perpetual motion machine, or a frictionless plane, like a hockey rink after the Zamboni has resurfaced the ice. I know to maintain the inertial movement, or initiative in this case, I need to introduce energy into the system. 

Where does the energy come from? 

We see glimpses of it everyday, as our leaders' use vision to transform our Air and Space force to meet the future threats to global peace in the space and cyber space realm. Visioning, setting goals and stretching goals are ways to add energy to our system to maintain the inertia or initiative. 

Another way to add energy to the system is to provide incentives to your people. Recognize and reward those who come up with innovative ways to make things happen. The key is not to just recognize the big ideas that save a lot of money or time, but also recognize the small ideas as well, because they build upon one another and seem to gain their own momentum. 

In today's Air Force, it's not enough to leave well enough alone. The idea of "if it's not broke, don't fix it" is not suitable in this time and place. Today, we need initiative to take us the next step down the road. Our philosophy should be "if it's not broke, improve it." 

Take it from an engineer: we don't make great technical advancements and progress by maintaining the status quo. We gain by stimulating innovation among our people.