TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Recently, I lost my best friend of almost eight years. Her loss was extremely hard on me for many reasons – the first being she was the first loss I had suffered as an adult. Second, she was my best friend. She was my sidekick; we did everything together. She had been there with me through it all: a divorce, a marriage, four permanent changes of station to include overseas, two promotions, good times and bad…and just like that she was gone. Bella was my dog.
After those first few days of sadness, I pondered the memories; I went through the pictures and videos, shared the funny stories and celebrated her life and times we shared. Through my trip down memory lane, I realized how much I appreciated her companionship and what she taught me about not only being a better human being, but how she made me a better leader. Although there were many ways she showed me, I chose to highlight just a few of the important ones.
Be patient. Starting from the day I picked up that little fur ball, my patience was tested. Training takes time, patience and understanding, and she wasn’t born knowing everything. Our Airmen will test our patience, but if we invest the time, patience and understanding they too will become better people for it.
Grow. Bella was always smarter than she was good. She knew how to obey and how to get her treats, but she didn’t always do the right thing. It was up to me to show her the way. Airmen may know right from wrong, but may not always make the right decision. They too need to be shown the way and allowed to grow from their mistakes.
Don’t be judgmental. Bella never cared how great of a leader I was, what I got on my last enlisted performance report, how many awards I won or whether I was in a good or bad mood. She just loved me, even when I ignored her. Our subordinates don’t care about those things either, but they do care how you treat them. We don’t know everyone’s story, so don’t be quick to judge based on one decision.
Forgive. Dogs are probably the most forgiving creatures on the planet. We leave them for hours, and they still love us. We discipline them for misbehaving, and 10 minutes later they're in our laps. Whatever they did, it happened, move on; life is too short to worry about what's already been done.
Make others feel valued. Bella was always excited to see me. Any moment I spent with her made me feel I was the most important person in the world. Her eyes would light up, her tail would wag and her whole body would shake. When was the last time you stopped and truly listened, without checking your phone, zoning out or interrupting what a coworker had to say?
We become the leaders we are by what we’ve learned along the way. Some are natural born leaders and some must work really hard, but we should never lose sight of how we can become better. Sometimes lessons can happen where you least expect it. Bella taught me that leadership can come in all forms and in the most unexpected ways.