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Don’t fake it ‘til you break it

Maj. Michelle L. Baxter, 60th Logistics Readiness Squadron commander, shares some thoughts on leadership and the mentality every Airman should bring. (Courtesy Photo)

Maj. Michelle L. Baxter, 60th Logistics Readiness Squadron commander, shares some thoughts on leadership and the mentality every Airman should bring. (Courtesy Photo)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – “Fake it ‘til you make it.” This is a popular saying I have heard throughout my Air Force career and it honestly scares me sometimes.

When used to describe pretending to have an optimistic, confident mindset to get past self-doubt or insecurity, it can be right on target. More often, it’s stated by someone who doesn’t know how to do a task or answer a technical question.

Rather than ask for help or admit a lack of knowledge, they wing it and hope that if it’s wrong, someone else will fix it or that it will not be caught until they are long gone. In the operational environment, the phrase really means “fake it ‘til you break it” and we can’t afford to accept this mindset.

We have been empowered by our most senior leaders to make the best decisions possible to get the job done. U.S. Air Force Secretary, Heather Wilson was clear in her Air Force directive publication message in August 2017, “We trust you can make the right decisions based on our values, your training, the mission and your experience … The focus will be identifying best practices and concentrating on values, mission and results.”

This guidance has given us the latitude to incorporate continuous process improvement and innovation into our daily operations—to work smarter and more efficiently. This also puts the onus back on us to know our jobs and do them right to get precise, desired results. We have to be confident in our wingmen’s, and our own, ability to identify when things aren’t under control, to ask for assistance and to know that by working together, the job can be done safely. 

We can’t afford to accept a culture where we say “good enough” and “close enough.” We can and must be better. If you aren’t there yet, if you don’t have the training or the experience, don’t sacrifice your integrity to fake it. Failing to ask for help or just a second set of eyes isn’t worth putting yourself or others in danger. How many accidents, audits or other major actions consuming years of manpower can probably be traced back to a five-second decision where someone failed to say something?

That said, we are in the military and there are times when we are asked to accept more risk, to rise to meet the challenges that our jobs and our leaders require.  At those time, we employ risk mitigation, give it our all and have the courage to ask for help if our reach temporarily exceeds our grasp. We shouldn’t accept giving anything less than our best, whatever level our best may be, and strive to continue to improve. Don’t fake it until you break it or say it’s good enough for government work. Challenge yourself to not only do it right, but to do it better.