Lessons learned in a 26-year career

Chief Master Sgt. Jamie Vanoss, 821st Contingency Response Group superintendent.

Chief Master Sgt. Jamie Vanoss, 821st Contingency Response Group superintendent.

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- As I close out my career in the service of our nation, I find myself reflecting on the past 26 years, often reflecting on the things that aided my success.  While not all inclusive, I hope you gain something from my lessons learned. 

1. Be appreciative. Thank you is such a simple phrase, but, when delivered, has the potential to instill pride in work and self and invite increased productivity in those you are given the privilege of leading.

2. Be passionate. John Maxwell said, “A great leader’s courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position.”  Love what you do or find something else you love doing. 

3. Demand perfection. Set your expectations high and coach those you lead to that standard.  Mediocrity has no place in the world’s greatest air, space and cyberspace force. 

4. Embrace failure. We will all fail. It is a fact of life.  However, failure is not what defines us; how we overcome those failures is what defines our character. Do not be afraid to fail nor be afraid to let those you lead fail. As a leader, you must stand ready to pick your Airmen up as they try again.      

5. Stay humble. It is not about you. It never was and it never will be. Being a servant leader requires you to check your ego at the front door.  After all, no one wants to follow a bully. 

6. Respect. Regardless of rank or position, each of us deserves respect. Give it freely to your Airmen, agnostic of rank. Embrace each other’s differences just as you embrace your commonalities. 

7. Communicate clearly. If you do not communicate where you want those you lead to go, they will be left wandering aimlessly. Make your message, vision and words clear. 

8. Be a compassionate leader. Listen to the needs of those you lead. Know about them, their families, their likes and dislikes. Know when something is wrong with them and offer to help them through the darkness should they encounter it. Your job is to help them slay their dragons and compassionate leadership allows you to do just that. 

9. Offer and invite feedback. Your Airmen cannot get better if you are not giving them open and candid feedback while requesting the same in return. For those being led, you must offer feedback in return.  The end goal is we are all better, but if we are only coaching one player on the team, we are destined for failure. 

10. Stand ready to take that 2 a.m. phone call.  Someone’s life may depend on you answering.  Be ready to travel to the ends of the Earth to help your fellow service members.  Your position as a leader, a friend and a wingman demands nothing less. 

Again, while this list is not all inclusive, my hope is you glean something from it that will help motivate you into being the leader our Air Force needs.  I know I am leaving it in great hands.