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Courage to tackle any problem

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jamie Dermer
  • 6th Operations Support Squadron commander
Throughout my career I've been fortunate to serve with a number of terrific leaders and witness their philosophies on what it took to be successful at all levels. Without a doubt, the one that resonates with me most is to "never walk by a problem." It's simple to understand the value of these five words but quite different to truly live up to their meaning.

Imagine a scenario where you stumble upon some trash outside of your building. The choices are straightforward; you can either ignore the problem or pick up the trash. In this situation, there are no judgments from other people. The only conflict is internal. Now take that same situation, but instead you observe a person intentionally walk past the trash. Did their inaction cause you to confront the person? Most people would answer no, but what if you noticed someone ignoring proper etiquette during retreat? Would you walk by this problem, or would you intervene and try to change the person's behavior? In an academic environment the answer seems clear, but what if you're an airman first class, or even a junior officer, and the person referenced above is a colonel? In this instance, an apparent easy correction can create quite a bit of angst because of the rank disparity. Walking by this problem may seem to be the easier choice for most.

Both of the examples above are trivial in the grander scheme, but they establish a pattern of behavior. Our ability to confront a problem, even at the lowest level, involves a capacity to not only recognize the proper action but also the courage to stand-up for what is correct.

Each and every day we are tested in a variety of ways. For some, a challenge involves ensuring people accomplish work tasks in accordance with technical order guidance.

Where deviations are found, we rely on trainers or quality assurance representatives to identify where missteps were taken. For others, it's being a good Wingman and preventing a friend from getting behind the wheel of a car while inebriated or confronting them about offensive or discriminatory remarks. In each of these examples, it's not enough to recognize the inappropriate behavior. Instead we must have the courage and fortitude to confront a potentially uncomfortable situation and take the action we know to be correct.

In my experience, one of the best opportunities to solve problems is through timely, honest and constructive feedback. Yet all too often these moment are squandered by watered down or overinflated evaluations that minimize any real chance for growth because a supervisor lacked the courage to face a difficult issue. For those that dealt with the problem, how did they communicate it to their subordinate? Does the supervisor know the person well enough to recognize how they are motivated? Was the feedback delivered in a constructive manner which could promote long-term behavioral change, or was it packaged with such negativity that it was never internalized? Establishing effective communication with our people is imperative to really effect lasting change and is a critical aspect of the "never walk by a problem" philosophy.

It's much too easy to ignore life's more difficult challenges with the hope that the problem will resolve itself in time. Unfortunately, this passive approach typically results in a person or organization being overtaken by events and, more frequently, limits growth and the ability to excel. Rather than sit idly by and accept any wayward course, leaders must lead and have the temerity to act when faced with a problem.

Your conscience knows the correct course if you allow it to be guided by our core values. Courage coupled with effective communication and our values enables you to push through the bonds of mediocrity and lift an organization to a higher level.