Lorenz on Leadership

  • Published
  • By Gen. Stephen R. Lorenz
  • Air Education and Training Command
In 1987 I was commander of the 93rd Air Refueling Squadron at Castle AFB in Merced, California. Late one night, I sat down and wrote out a list of leadership principles. There was nothing magical about them--they were simply useful precepts I had learned over the years. Today, especially after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, our leaders need to reflect on the principles that guide them. I do not seek to instill mine on the readers of this journal. Rather, I only ask that Air Force leaders reflect on what their principles are, regardless of whether or not they have written them down. That said, I offer the following for consideration.

Balancing Shortfalls

Shortfalls occur in our professional and personal lives. We never seem to have enough time, money, or manpower. The essence of this "scarcity principle" lies in accepting the reality of limited resources and becoming adept at obtaining superior results in less-than-ideal situations. Equally important, once people acknowledge the scarcity of resources, then they need not bemoan the situation any longer. In other words, they should "deal with it." Leaders must carry out the mission with the resources they have. They have to make it happen! This is part of being a military commander and leader. Commanders never go to war with all the resources they think they need--they balance their shortfalls to accomplish the mission.

Keeping Our Eyes on the Ball

In order to prevail, leaders must always keep in mind what they want to accomplish, regardless of the task, and not become distracted. They must articulate the mission to their people. During my tenure as director of the Air Force budget, I didn't consider the budget the mission so much as I considered it a means for our service to defend the United States through the exploitation of air and space. In the Air Force, this means that leaders must connect actions and troops to the mission and never lose sight of this important relationship.

Leaders can assure their people's well-being (a major ingredient of mission accomplishment) by knowing how they feel and how they are doing. They should look them in the eye and ask how they are. Eyes don't lie. They reflect happiness, sadness, or stress. To get an honest answer, one should ask at least three times, and do so more emphatically each time: "How are you doing?" The first response is always, "Fine." The second, "I'm okay." Finally, when they realize that their leader is truly interested, they respond honestly. By the way, the only difference between a younger person and someone my age is the amount of scar -tissue. Because I have lived longer than most of my military colleagues on active duty and therefore have more scar tissue, I can probably disguise my feelings more effectively. But the eyes are the true indicator. Again, leaders must never lose sight of the primary objective: to focus on the mission and take care of their people.
Those Who Do Their
Homework Win

The equation for this principle is simple: knowledge = power. Take, for example, the battle for scarce resources. The person who has the most compelling story, backed by the strongest data, gets the most resources. We have seen this principle, which applies universally to all other undertakings, demonstrated repeatedly throughout history--especially military history!
The Toughest Word to Say
in the English Language

According to an old adage, the most difficult word to say in English is no. But I have a contrarian's view. Saying no finishes the situation; saying yes, however, carries with it additional tasks, commitments, and responsibilities. For instance, when I agree to speak to a group, I have taken a more difficult path than I would have by declining. If I say no to a request for funding an initiative, my job is finished. If I say yes, then I must take on the task of finding resources. Leaders should also consider the effects of a response on working relationships. If a leader responds affirmatively 95 percent of the time, his or her people will readily accept the fact that the leader has carefully considered their request before responding negatively. I never say no until I research the issue and look into all of the alternatives. To this day, it still amazes me that most of the time I can say yes if I do a little work and make a personal commitment.

New Ideas Need
Time and Nurturing to
Grow and Bear Fruit

In order to overcome some of the challenges we face today, we need people to think and act out of the box. Furthermore, we must have the patience and faith to stay the course. Things do not happen overnight. People have to work very hard to make things happen. They must sell their ideas and do their homework without concern for who gets the credit. This principle is very important to remember as new generations of Airmen enter the Air Force to help fight the global war on terrorism.

Leaders Should Not Lose Their Temper--Unless They Plan To

To navigate the necessary course of action and ensure mission accomplishment, a leader must be willing to use more than one approach. Earlier in my career, I saw my boss--a mild-mannered, consummately professional four-star general--storm into a meeting and angrily bark out criticisms to his senior staff. When we left the room, he looked at me, winked, and calmly said that sometimes a person has to put across a different face in order for people to take him or her seriously. My boss had planned the whole incident. He had not lost his temper at all--he did it for effect. If leaders cannot control themselves, how can they control others? They must have self--discipline. They should never, ever lose their temper--unless they plan to.

All Decisions Should
Pass the Sunshine Test

Because leaders must make difficult decisions every day, it's important for people in the trenches to know that the process is fair and above reproach. Toward that end, we must be as open and accessible as possible and always act as if our decisions were public knowledge--as if they appeared in the newspaper, for example. If leaders are forthright about why they made a decision, their people might disagree, but they will understand the underlying logic and continue to trust them. As Air Force leaders, we need only look to our service's core values--integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do--to arrive at solid decisions that gain the public trust and instill faith in our processes.

Ego: Both a Facilitator
and a Detriment

A unit's success depends upon its members keeping their egos in check. We cannot afford to let them run amuck. We need confident, capable people who work together to enhance the organization rather than individuals who pursue their own selfish agendas. As my father taught me, leaders need people with ambition--not ambitious people.

Early in my career, I applied for a development program--the predecessor of the current Air Force Intern Program. I had confidence that I would be accepted, so not seeing my name on the list came as a shock. To make matters worse, another officer in my squadron did make the cut. Inwardly, I withdrew from the organization and walked around several days feeling hurt and angry. Eventually, though, I realized that the Air Force only owed me the opportunity to compete. On the day the board met, my records did not meet its standards. Whose fault was that? Mine--no one else's. I put the issue behind me and embraced my squadron mate. This experience taught me the negative effect of allowing my ego to dominate my actions--specifically, my failure to realize that the Air Force had not promised to select me for the program. It did, however, guarantee me equitable consideration and fair competition. I should have expected nothing else. An Air Force person should compete only with himself or herself, striving for improvement every day!
Work the Boss's Boss's Problems

This principle goes one step beyond the adage "work your boss's problems." Most people make a decision through a soda straw, but if they would rise up two levels above themselves, they could open the aperture of that straw and get a strategic view of the decision. Taking a "god's eye" view--looking through the eyes of their boss's boss--allows them to make a much better decision. That is, leaders must become deeply committed to the organization and make their boss's challenges their own. If they can achieve this type of commitment--regardless of who the boss is or which political party controls the government--the only thing that matters is enhancing mission accomplishment by making the best decisions possible and doing the right thing under the circumstances.

Self-Confidence and Motivation:
Keys to Any Great Endeavor

We can attribute most successful endeavors to persevering and putting forth maximum effort. Whenever I speak about leadership, I always begin with a quotation from Sir Winston Churchill: "To every man, there comes in his lifetime that special moment when he is figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered that chance to do a very special thing, unique to him and fitted to his talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds him unprepared or unqualified for that which would be his finest hour." I am particularly attracted to this statement because of the great things Churchill accomplished, even though he faced failure and defeat many times. Regardless of the difficulty or hardship, he remained committed and motivated. He never gave up. Churchill's words represent a call to action that has helped me overcome such challenges as surviving engineering courses as a cadet as well as serving as a wing commander, commandant of cadets at the Air Force Academy, and budget director for the Air Force despite having no prior experience in budgetary matters. Although I lacked in-depth knowledge of budgets and finance, perseverance got me through, as always. I never gave up. My best advice? Never give up. Never, ever give up!

Apply Overwhelming Combat Power to the Point That
Will Have the Most Effect

I have a simple organizational method that has served me well for many years. I like to approach issues, goals, and tasks "big to small, top to bottom, or left to right." That is, I believe that one must be able to see the entire forest before working on individual trees. We must understand the big-picture issues before delving into smaller details. From a broad point of view, I find it helpful to pursue goals by progressing from the short term, through the midterm, to the long term. Leaders should make sure their subordinates have not only the "overall road map" they need for -direction but also the resources to plan and complete tasks.

One of my favorite and most beneficial experiences involved an aircraft-sanitation worker at McGuire AFB, New Jersey. During a customer-focus class that I taught in an effort to counter what I perceived as lackadaisical attitudes prevalent in the organization, I -noticed a lady in the audience whose body language was so agitated that she was figuratively screaming at me. I stopped the class and asked her what was wrong. Jeanie said she was frustrated because no one would help her with a work problem. I told her that if she explained the situation to me, I would try to help.

According to Jeanie, the sanitation truck that she operated was designed for servicing a KC-10, which sits high off the ground. Normally, she hooked the truck's waste-removal hose to the aircraft, flipped a switch, and gravity pulled the contents into her vehicle. At that time, however, McGuire also had the C-141, which sits only three feet off the ground. Consequently, when she attempted the same procedure on the C-141, the hose bent because it was not fully extended, as with the KC-10, and became clogged with waste. She then had to disconnect the hose, lift it over her head, and shake it to clear the obstruction--clearly an unpleasant task that she had to repeat multiple times if the aircraft's lavatory were completely full. Although such a problem might seem trivial, on a large aircraft that makes extended flights, the lavatory is a -mission-essential piece of equipment. Armed with the knowledge of Jeanie's problem, I organized a team to solve it--and the members did so by engineering and installing a 3.2-horsepower engine that proved more than capable of overcoming the clearance problem.

But the greatest accomplishment in this case was neither the technical solution nor the vastly improved sanitation procedure but the effect the process had on Jeanie. It revived and energized her. Thereafter, each time I saw Jeanie she proudly displayed her truck, which she had polished and shined so highly that it would likely meet a hospital's sanitation standards.

This story drives home the point that leaders must look for both verbal and nonverbal messages from the people in their organization. If they can reach the person who operates the sanitation truck, then they can reach anyone.

Study the Profession and Read--Especially Biographies

During our Air Force careers, we have many opportunities to add to our education and knowledge. America's future depends upon our maximizing and complementing these occasions with our own regimen of reading and development. As a lifetime student of leadership, I have an insatiable appetite for learning and regularly read two or three books at a time. I have dedicated myself to learning from other people's experiences so that I do not waste time trying to reinvent the wheel. Studying and learning how other leaders overcame adversity will build confidence in one's own ability to make tough decisions. I have found my study of Gen Colin Powell and Gen Henry "Hap" Arnold especially rewarding.

Take Your Job
(Not Yourself) Seriously

To drive home the important concepts when I discuss leadership, I include comical--sometimes outrageous--videos and pictures to accompany each principle. Audiences seem both surprised and refreshed to see a general officer use David-Letterman-style "top-10 lists" and irreverent videos ranging from Homer Simpson to bizarre advertisements as part of a serious presentation. However, I see these methods as the ideal way of delivering my message. Leaders must realize that because they communicate with a diverse, cross-generational population, they need to speak in terms their audience will understand. A leader must create a common, shared vision that everyone can comprehend and accept. I like to try to communicate my vision by talking about an experience or using an analogy that everyone can relate to, understand, and remember. It is critical that leaders deliver their message in easily grasped terminology. They should employ a type of universal device akin to the "Romulan translator" depicted in the Star Trek television series. The medium used by the communicator can take the form of an analogy, a video, or a story. However, the critical point is that the communicator package and deliver the message in a format that the varied groups we lead today will understand.

Today's leaders were born primarily during the last half of the twentieth century. They could have been born 100 years earlier or 100 years from now. By accident of birth, most, but not all American leaders, were born in the United States. They could have been born in another country like Iraq or Cambodia, but most of today's leaders were born in America. The United States, whether it wants to be or not, is the world's greatest power, and air and space power is now the permanent instrument of that power. Every one of the current leaders in our military at some time made a conscious decision to become a defender, not a defended. Balancing this all together, we see that our leaders have a heavy burden leading others in the global war on terrorism. Every day they get up in the morning to lead, and they have to give it their very best--not their second best. Visiting the wounded soldiers, sailors, marines, and Airmen in our hospitals makes us realize that leaders owe their people the very best. They cannot afford to have a bad day! They must know who they are and how they lead; they must have their own list of leadership principles.

As I said before, the most important point about these 13 personal leadership principles that I have laid out is to encourage leaders to define their own principles. In this article, I have sought to motivate and aid our service's leaders in identifying and clarifying their positions--not in memorizing mine. In order for a leader's set of principles to be effective, they should be based on a foundation--such as the ideals embodied in the Air Force's core values--and they must reflect who that leader is! It is never too early or never too late to write down a set of personal leadership principles. Future leaders in today's Air Force should start now--they will never regret it, and it will make them better leaders for our nation.