JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas —
Growing up in the small town of Montague, Michigan, with one stop light, the site of the world’s largest weather vane and a population of less than 2,500, I spent memorable hours of my childhood with my dad in his old aluminum boat fishing. During these trips, I would open my dad’s yellow tackle box, survey my options, then ask myself, “If I were a fish, what bait would catch my attention?” After finding the shiniest and most colorful lures, I would proudly hold them up for my dad’s approval asking him, “Is this the right one?”
In the course of my Air Force career, I learned that being a leader has a lot in common with my fishing experiences. Just like an angler, a leader needs a tackle box full of options. Good leaders realize not all Airmen are the same, nor are Airmen motivated by what we, as leaders, see as their best options.
I met many leaders who have the mentality that, “If it worked for me, it will work for you”, or “It’s my way or the highway.” As leaders, our primary goal should be to provide Airmen with the knowledge and skills to become the best leader they can be while keeping in mind their individual uniqueness and preferences.
Leaders, unfortunately, sometimes try to dictate precisely what is required to mold their Airmen into the best leader they think they should be. This type of leadership is not only selfish, but narrow minded, and can stunt the growth of our future leaders.
I can honestly say my career progression has been most inspired by leaders who allowed me to grow into my own leadership style and helped me realize I should be the best possible version of me.
Through trial and error, and wise fatherly mentoring, I learned the value of selecting the right tool to catch a wide range of fish. Dad would often tell me, “Josh, you can’t use that one, it isn’t the right bait to catch the fish we are after.” I recall being disappointed thinking surely the lures I had selected would draw any fish in the water to my line. It took time and experience to understand that different types of baits or lures draws different fish to it.
As leaders, we need to remember our words, actions, and the “bait” we select in developing our Airmen, must be carefully considered for optimal impact. Not only do we need to know whom we are trying to reach, but also understand their motivations and the best way to get them to embrace our message.
If we use the wrong bait or fail to change when we realize our numerous casts are coming up empty, we may miss a big opportunity to provide our Airmen with the knowledge, mentoring, and the experience they so desperately need.