What do you value most: service or self?


Throughout my Air Force career, I’ve learned many significant leadership lessons.  One of the most profound lessons was finding value in what really mattered most…service to others! In my experience, I recognize service comes in different forms and can be expressed through acts of kindness, gratitude, appreciation and in your decision-making as a leader.

In my early years, I struggled with identifying what provided the most fulfillment as an Airman and individual.  I placed focus on gaining acceptance from family, friends, co-workers, supervisors and people around me.  I strived to be the best Airman I could be by attaining excellent test scores, working extra hard at my job, collecting awards, and constantly trying to out-do myself and others in order to achieve the next goal or what I thought was the next level of success.  At the end of the day, there was no joy or satisfaction in placing focus only on myself, and I discovered there was no real reward in my efforts.  Oprah Winfrey once stated the secret to her success was in the “power of service” and I share this sentiment.

After many bumps in the road over the years, I learned what I valued most was people and a sense of service.  Upon this realization, I shifted focus from me to the genuine service of people.  I concentrated on understanding the purpose, needs and challenges of others.  I took time to know their story, background and the things that were important to them.  I found ways to help, coach, mentor and develop others.  As a result of this mental shift, I realized true success for me came from serving with kindness, gratitude and appreciation for others.  All Airmen, regardless of rank, want to feel valued and appreciated.  They want to know that leaders have sincere gratitude for their life, story, service and sacrifice.  Often times, service members are placed in situations to put the mission first, which could result in leaving their families behind when duty calls.  This is not an easy task, and could come at a very high personal cost that shouldn’t be ignored.  If we want to be successful leaders and see the results that we are looking for out of our people, we must consider their basic human needs.

Tony Robbins, a successful businessman and motivational speaker, explains the six basic needs of people are: certainty, variety, significance, growth, love/connectedness, and contribution.  When these needs go unmet, we as leaders won’t see the outcome we are looking for.  I believe this theory holds true personally and professionally, and sheds significant insight when considering the needs of our fellow Airmen and peers.  Having said this, when Airmen feel connected, valued and appreciated, they work harder and yield better results.  Consequently, leading and mission accomplishment becomes effortless. Leaders gain genuine buy-in and ultimately establish real relationships with those they lead.

As I reflect upon my 24-year career, I know without hesitation that my most successful and rewarding leadership moments came from helping others.  Whether it was reuniting a family, working a humanitarian assignment, rehabilitating a struggling Airman, coaching someone toward promotion, motivating others to pursue higher education, or simply helping people find purpose, connectedness, belonging or self-worth, it all boiled down to service.

In closing, I encourage you as leaders to take the time to invest in the service of others.  Take time to care, express gratitude and show appreciation.  Whenever possible, consider the long-term effects and consequences of your decisions and how it affects people.  This doesn’t mean every person will be happy or that things will always go the way they want it to go.  However, I assure you this shift in thinking will produce better results and provide a true measure of success.