The Power of "Yes"


Official Biography Photo


A couple of weeks ago I celebrated my twenty-year mark in our amazing Air Force. Over my eleven assignments, I have had many remarkable and memorable leaders, mentors, peers, and subordinates.  They have helped develop my leadership skills and shape me into a better person as we all know, we cannot succeed without help, and a strong team. Whenever I am asked to talk about my leadership philosophy or style I always come back to the same point in my career when I learned arguably, my most valuable and important leadership lesson, the power of saying “yes.”

In 2014, I was a new brand new SMSgt and serving as the Director of Education at the Elmendorf Professional Military Education Center in Alaska. One afternoon, our most senior instructor came into my office and asked a fairly simple question: “Would you be willing to change the uniform of the day for the following day from Blues to the Airman Battle Uniform?” Of course, I responded quickly and being the new guy in charge my initial response was an emphatic “absolutely not” and I quickly dismissed the instructor from my office, likely with a lower morale than when he came in. My boss, who sat in the office next to me came over and asked me why I said “no” and I had no better response than “because that’s the way I wrote the schedule.” His response to me instantly changed the way I look at everything. He simply asked me “does it matter” to which I had no response.

After I sat back down in my seat, I took a few minutes to think about what just transpired and quickly figured out that there was a huge problem. With self-reflection, I discovered the problem was me. I took no time to listen to one of my most knowledgeable and seasoned staff members or consider to ask “why” behind his initial question. Not until that exact moment had I questioned my leadership skills. As I sat and thought about it, I soon realized there was unquestionably not a reason for him to ask the questions, but there was also absolutely no reason for me to say “no”. It just did not matter. This was my “ah-ha” moment as a leader. If it was important enough for someone to ask, why not say “yes”? I quickly got up and went to find the instructor and let him know I had made a mistake and that we could change the uniform for the following day. Since that day, I have continually attempted to find a way to say “yes” to every request that comes across my desk.

There are many days where it is easier for us as leaders to promptly say “no” but how does this help us develop the next generations of leaders to come? As leaders, we have the responsibility to remove any barriers that prevent our Airmen to accomplish the mission. Saying “yes” allows our Airmen to be innovative while also being there to provide top-cover when things go sideways. When we as leaders tell our Airmen “yes”, we are telling them that we trust them, we value them and will have confidence in their decisions. This valuable lesson was a life-changing moment for my career, it has made me more balanced not only as a person but as a leader in the United States Air Force.