23 temporary years later ... Thanks Bob!

  • Published
  • By Col. Kerry Taylor
  • 190th Air Refueling Wing
Ten years ago... I turned my face for a moment and it became my life.

I never intended to make a career of the Guard. I enlisted to go to pilot training. I was fully immersed in preparing a parallel "real life" outside of the Guard. I was going to get a degree in biochemistry and keep my real career different from my hobby, flying, and maintain two very different skill sets for a wide base to operate from. What happened was far different. Joining the Guard was the best single life's decision I've made. I don't understand why everyone doesn't join. There are so many benefits and opportunities.

I remember my many chats (rants would be more accurate) with Chief Bob Ford on the flight line where I was a crew chief. One of my gripes was that I didn't think it was fair that the technicians moved themselves in to slots that were occupied by qualified traditionals to get promoted. He didn't disagree but said "Taylor, one day you'll be running this place and you can fix all that" and I would tell him he was full of it. Although he didn't live to see it, turns out he was right.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.

I was equally frustrated as a new officer. Only it wasn't necessarily the technicians that were the problem. The decisions of the folks in leadership positions seemed random and arbitrary. I was pretty vocal about my frustrations with some of the decisions but I was unable to articulate them in a way that was useful. I'm sure my rants were as unreasonable to them as their decisions were to me. I've told many people since, had I worked for me back then, my butt would have been fired.

Organizations don't make decisions, people do.

For sanity checks I would go chat with the personnel chief, Major (now Adjutant General, Maj Gen) Todd Bunting, and he would explain to me in terms that made much more sense what the leadership in operations was trying to do. He assured me that the folks in the organization try to do the best they can with what they have to work with. It's not always pretty and there are many ways to do things and just because I don't understand it doesn't make it wrong.

It was on a drive home to Manhattan when I had a blinding flash of the obvious; I was the cause of most of my frustrations! It struck every nerve in my body. I was indeed responsible for much more of my life than I had ever imagined. At the same time the feeling was very liberating. I decided from that point on I would do what I could to carry out the wishes of my superiors. I might ask for clarification, but would no longer question their motives.

If you see stupid people doing stupid things calling them stupid won't make them smart.

My formative years as a pilot taught me a lot about life, communications and organizations. You see, I joined to be a pilot but fell in love with supervision, coaching, and organizational behavior. I figured out early that being a pilot was what I did, not who I was. I was enrolling in graduate school when a full time opportunity became available. I told myself it would be temporary. That was 23 years ago.

Not long after, an opportunity for advancement came along and I took it. I found myself as
a supervisor with two people working for me. I was not comfortable with that. They were both hard workers and already trained so little supervision was required and it gave me a chance to address my initial fears of supervision. I voraciously studied everything I could find on leadership, communication, and interpersonal behavior. There was tons of material but very few veins of gold. I narrowed my search and became actively involved in studying human behavior in organizations. I spent months of personal leave and thousands of dollars to educate myself with the leading experts around the country.

The single most useful skill I learned was how to distill complaints, problems, issues, concerns, etc. down to their essence, and articulate them in a way that was actionable
or useful. Furthermore, when distilled down this way most are self-referential. Meaning the problems are most fully solved by the presenter. If only I had this ability early in my career. For more information on this, than you could possibly stand, search "well formed outcome".

The Guard was providing the springboard - income, a laboratory, and generous leave opportunities in preparation for my "real life" next career. I began to expand my comfort
zone in management. My personal toughest lesson, you can't keep all the people happy all of the time. Sometimes you've got to be the bad guy. An interesting corollary came from that lesson. People are pretty tough, if you have bad news to deliver, do it as soon as possible with as much information as you have. If you do this continuously instead of only during the crises, you would call it transparent leadership.

At several points over the years I would hire a professional development coach to launch
my escape into the "real world" and each time I would find what I was looking for right here at the 190th. I became a coach myself and worked with members of the Kansas Guard on personal and professional development. It's the aspect of my job that I enjoy the most.

We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

Chief Ford was right that I would be running this place and fixing what I thought were inequities in our culture. It's only fitting that I retire as the Vice Wing Commander supporting a traditional Wing Commander, the top Wing slot occupied by the top qualified person. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thanks Bob.