What We Give

What we give to others has a ripple effect on humanity. Our life’s legacy is created by what we give of ourselves to our neighbor. Our neighbor could be a co-worker, stranger or our actual neighbor next door. Today I stepped into day one of the Blue Courage Train-the-Trainer class at Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Training Center. I’ve been trying to attend this class for several years now. It seemed like every time I thought the stars would align, something came up (military training, family situations, car accident, death of my father, divorce, another car accident, you get the point 🙂 etc.) that kept me from getting to the class. That is until this summer when an opportunity to attend in Los Angeles popped up. I felt a strong pull to attend this particular class and I figured it was perfect timing so I could learn and teach this life-changing course to my cops and the cops in our neighboring towns.

I stepped into the classroom today and went to a table with two gentlemen seated. We exchanged good morning greetings, wrote our name tags out and joked a bit. I asked them which police department they worked for and the name that came out of their mouths sent chills…good chills down my spine. Westminster PD the officer across from me said. I couldn’t believe my ears and without hesitation, I asked him if he knew my late mentor Officer (US Air Force IMA) TSgt Steven Phillips.

He said, “Yes, he was my motorcycle trainer.” I couldn’t believe the connection and the universe aligning me with not one but two cops who served in the same police department as Steve. As I lay down tonight, eyes heavy – my heart is beaming with gratitude for the gift of Steven being here and crossing our paths. I’m sad he’s gone and always will be, but grateful his legacy lives on in the hearts of so many.

In 2001, I was a young Air Force Law Enforcement Instructor and IMA coordinator at Vandenberg AFB with Security Forces. 9/11 happened and our Air Force IMAs reserves were activated for Operation Noble Eagle. Officer (TSgt) Phillips came to us for almost two years from the Westminster PD. He spent many hours in my training office and classroom mentoring me and sharing his knowledge with my students and I. He always made us feel like we were his sole focus. He shared his civilian cop experiences with us to prepare us for the unknown. He was grace and kindness personified and impacted so many people during his short life. I am honored to have known him and will never forget how he lived his life. What he gave keeps impacting others almost 15 years after his death. Thank you Steve!

Love & Leadership,

Erin

 

It’s in the Solitude…

It is in the solitude where the leader changes and grows the most. Growth only happens if the leader looks internally and examines the self daily. Reflecting throughout your day as a leader opens you to a greater mindfulness and sense of purpose. Every single day we can choose to learn from the events of the day, self-reflect and determine what enabled us to grow. When you self reflect, ask questions such as: What did I learn about myself today? How could I have handled _____ today? What frustrated me today? Why did it elicit a reaction from me? What did I learn? What inspired me today? Most importantly, what did I learn from my interactions with others? (employees, significant other, neighbors, kids, etc?)

There are thousands of books out there on how to be a better leader, how to know yourself first, how to grow and so many more titles claiming to possess the secret to success as a leader. The truth is there is not a single recipe for success as a leader. Leadership is developed with practice, development of character strengths, moral courage, energy, learning, service,compassion, empathy and a whole lot of persistence and grace!

The work you do on yourself is the most valuable educational aspect of leadership development. Many who are placed in positions of leadership do not reflect enough during their days. They go from meeting to meeting, task to task, and crisis to crisis without slowing down to reflect, examining the self, and digging deep into themselves to pull out their greatest strengths as a leader.

Reflect often and you will grow beyond your greatest expectations as a leader. Teach your employees to reflect often as well. Your followers are watching and learning how to become a leader worth following! Are you worth following?

Love & Leadership,

Erin

Leading A Legacy

When your leadership story ends, will you be able to say you left a legacy? Better yet, will you be able to say you led a legacy and now there are others leading a legacy because of you? As I prepare to hang up my Air Force uniform after more than twenty years of military service, I know the Airmen I’ve led will continue to lead a legacy. They will lead a legacy of compassion, duty, friendship, warrior ethos, commitment, hard work, faith, persistence, empathy, character, and so much more.

My late great-grandfather Buster (photo at right) served during WWII and he served for only a few years. He always told me, it was in those few years where he felt the power of personal character and leading a legacy. When I was a young Track team Captain for my high school track team, he told me to focus on leading my teammates instead of leaving a legacy. Of course, back then I wanted more than anything to make it to the state finals every year, and I only ended up making it to state finals once. When he taught me about leading a legacy, my actions as a captain changed. I began spending more time going to the field events and sprints to cheer on my teammates, I took them Gatorade and fruit. I ran my races but made sure to visit every team event and every track mate. Something wonderful happened, my teammates started doing the same after their races and events. It didn’t stop there, each season in track one of my teammates qualified for the state finals and they requested their Captain to join them. They wanted their leader in the stands when they were competing in the shot put, first ever girl’s pole vault event, sprint relays, and distance races. They could have chosen anyone to take with them…yet they chose me. This was my first lesson in servant leadership.

I have seen many of my Airmen and peers doing the same thing in the Air Force these last twenty plus years. Every day my Airmen work beside their teammates, they led their fellow Airmen (really lead them, by championing them, pushing them positively to be better, know more and do better.) Each of them is leading their own legacy.

As I leave the Air Force I know the legacy which started on the track back in 1996 will continue on in the hearts of the Airmen I’ve led. They may not remember me in 5 years, but they WILL lead their own legacy in the hearts and minds of every Airman they work with, lead, or meet!

“Lead a Legacy”

Love & Leadership,

Erin

Leaders Extend a Hand

To be a leader is to lend a hand. It’s simple really, leave your office and go out and “be” with your employees – lead them and lend them a hand when the jobs are the toughest & most challenging. Show them they aren’t alone out there. As their leader – BE the hand that will pull them upward in their career. A hand high-fiving them when they achieved something great, A hand to hold onto when they are unconscious in the emergency room waiting for their family to arrive, a hand pulling them up from a challenge, a hand pushing them beyond their comfort zone but supporting them if they stumble. Most of all lend a hand when they need your presence as their leader the most.

A leader’s job is never finished when one employee achieves success and moves on. A Leader in any company, organization, school, anywhere really…benefits from this simple wisdom. Lend a hand!

After all, none of us got to where we are today alone. There were lots of hands holding, lifting, pushing and pulling us to help us heal, grow and achieve our greatest and truest potential.

When you achieve each milestone in your career, reflect upon those who’ve helped you. Better yet, bring another person along beside you to show them how to lend a hand!

Love & Leadership,

Erin

Building Bridges

As a leader we have countless responsibilities. One of the leadership responsibilities I’ve placed in the top 10 list that makes up my leadership philosophy is the art of building bridges. Everyone who ever travels with me knows how much I love Bridges. The design, the engineering, the strong trestles holding it in place! The same can be said of building bridges between people, teams, organizations, and even entire countries.

At the height of Operation Iraqi Freedom I was teaching at Airman Leadership School. In a previous post, I shared a story from another class with two amazing Airmen who served in Iraq. A year after they graduated, I had a totally different dynamic in my classroom. I had the “Eternally Storming” class, the one my Instructor-Trainer warned me about.

This particular class was relentless. Egos ran high, individualism and self-serving attitudes filled my classroom each day, all day long. Absolutely nothing I shared or taught seemed to reach them. It was my third year teaching and I had experienced tough students, but never an entire class! I came to school daily with zeal and poured everything I had into them each day. My fellow instructor and I spent hours and hours counseling them in private – trying to inspire and get through to them.

I went home mentally and physically exhausted each day and held my baby son and cried from frustration. This was the first time I was unable to rally a team. Fortunately intuition was telling me to keep teaching them with the same care and energy I gave to my best classes. I knew somehow they would be the class to teach me true resilience and they would become a team. I had no idea how…but my gut said it would happen and even if it happened graduation night then well by golly they would graduate as a team!

A few days before graduation it happened. The one and only student I hadn’t counseled or corrected for a bad attitude taught his class a lesson in bridge building.

He shared a story about his childhood in Africa and growing up with his beloved sister. They were refugees in the 90’s who fled war in their country to America. They then joined the military immediately after 9/11, him joining the Air Force her joining the Army to serve. He started to tear up and said he had gotten word from his family in the east coast before class that day that his sister died in Iraq of unknown causes. I could feel the air getting sucked out of the classroom as he said each word. I saw the expressions on my students’ faces change from ego to empathy rather quickly. One by one his classmates embraced him or offered words of support. That morning, 4 days before graduation the class built a bridge and became a team.

We build bridges when we listen with empathy, when we show interest in the life journey of others. Through encouragement, teamwork, compassion, service, egoless leading, and an attitude of “we are stronger together” – we lift one another upright like the trestles of a bridge bound together not one stronger or better than another…but supporting one another equally – that my friends is why we must build bridges. Sometimes the bridges are built when someone shares their deepest pain with their team. Not always…but sometimes that’s all it takes to build the bridge – the bond.

Love & Leadership,

Erin

Leading With Your Heart

Leading from the heart has never failed me in my twenty years serving in the United States Air Force. Love from a leader comes in the form of compassion, care, service, patience, kindness, empathy and so much more. Recently I finished reading Tommy Spaulding’s book, The Heart Led Leader. His book brilliantly captures how to lead from the heart.

I’ve learned through thousands and thousands of heart centered interpersonal sessions with my troops that one thing happens when you lead from love. Those you have led, mentored, guided or listened to in their hour of need turn around and reflect that same level of love and leadership to their followers.

We’ve all been led by leaders who are self-serving and we know we don’t want to become that. I’ve been led by them too and it was painful, but a valuable lesson. The lesson validated the fact that heart-based leaders lift morale, lift people’s productivity, and increases retention. I’ve been led by heart-based leaders throughout my career in the Military, many of them are some of the toughest, most highly skilled strategic leaders in the Air Force and most of them are men. These leaders taught me how servant leadership for a higher purpose meant caring for the Airmen as if they were your own blood. Serving beside them, leading them with grace and grit, and most importantly leading selflessly always. I’m excited about my next chapter as a leader after my Air Force career comes to a close. There are so many opportunities to develop leadership courses and skills beyond what I’ve learned and lived in the military these last two decades.

Go out there and lead with the heart 💗

Love & Leadership,

Erin

Time Well Spent

As a leader, I typically spend 75% of my day engaging in mentoring, problem solving, crisis management and other communication sessions with those I lead. The majority of my time however, is deliberately focused on their career and personal development, which includes the wellness of their families.

I learned from many leaders (both in real life and in the pages of their biographies) about giving the gift of time to their followers. The real life lesson about a giving time to followers came to me during my instructor internship at Vandenberg Airman Leadership School. My supervisor, who I affectionately call the Yoda of Professional Military Education had a Masters Degree in counseling and worked as a domestic violence family counselor in Texas. She was barely 5′ tall, yet her compassion, empathy and skill at listening to and reaching Airmen made her seem like a giant! I observed her interactions with the Airmen for two years. She was like their older and wiser sister – Yoda Quynh who was always dropping life wisdom nuggets while giving her time to listen to and help Airmen. Not once did I ever see her look at the clock during those sessions, often staying past class hours. Even secretly buying and leaving a struggling airman a new pair of running shoes because his had holes in the toes. Shoes were the last thing on that Airman’s mind. He had spent the last year deployed while financially supporting two younger siblings and his mom back in his home state. An Airmen who’s own leadership knew nothing of his struggle…yet in one counseling session Quynh’s empathy and compassion opened his heart to share why his shoes really had holes.

She was completely engaged in his story, listening deeply, responding with empathy and honesty. I’ve hoped in my years since learning from TSgt McCauley, I’ve reached half the Airmen as deeply as she did during her career.

I wrote to her a few months ago to thank her and she sent me a note that echoed some of the same things I observed in her. She told me she was proud of where I’ve gone in my career. I am grateful and proud to have witnessed her leadership in action.

She showed all of us why helping our Airmen would always be…Time well spent!

The real truth is this…

The quality time you give to those you lead, will leave a legacy of followers caring for their people long after you are gone. I mean (really caring, listening, giving them the shirt off your back if necessary). There have been times where my kids have been beside me when an Airman needs a minute of my time. It’s in those moments when I know it’s time well spent. I know this because my own children have thanked me for helping my Airmen. Not once have they been bitter or sad. They’ve been along with me on this ride and when someone asks them what my job is…they say “My mom helps her Airmen and we love them.”

The time you give away will come back in many intangible ways and often when you need it most!

Love & Leadership,

Erin

Give Them Blue Skies

You have many responsibilities as a leader of people. If you look behind you and see followers, remember they have chosen to follow and trust you! Most likely, your actions have inspired them to be better, know better, and do better. If this is true for you, you’ve given them something to believe in! You’ve given them blue skies.

Those who do not follow you simply wait for you to leave the organization. Or worse, they leave the organization before you do. They go searching for leaders who will give them blue skies.

Giving others blue skies doesn’t mean you solve their problems or take on their suffering as your own. It is simply showing you care and sharing your journey through past struggles or problems.

One of your duties as a leader is to give them hope and the truth. As humans, we all experience loss or great personal struggles in our lives. A relationship fails, finances go downhill, we may suffer from PTSD, depression, anxiety, illness, or suffer the loss of a loved one.

The very first time I experienced blue skies leadership was almost 20 years ago in Japan. I was a brand new Airman and was only there a month when my grandfather died. He was the most important person in my life…my inspiration and father figure. He taught me so much about being a true friend and leading others. He shared many stories of blue skies leadership from WWII that resonate with me today as a senior leader in my organization.

When I found out he died, I called my supervisor and told him how I was feeling. He talked with my flight chief and they gave me the last day of our work cycle off.

So with an aching heart, I sat there grieving in my dorm room knowing I didn’t have $2,000 for a plane ticket home to Michigan. A bit later, SSgt Jelinksi, SSgt Poti, SSgt Pemberton, A1C Cain, and A1C Sims came to check on me. My NCOs listened to my stories about Buster and they gave me hope by sharing their own stories and reminding me how proud Buster was of me. I didn’t make it home for the funeral, but my grandmother sent me a note with a photo she had taken in December of 1998 (a few months before he died). She wrote “Grandpa knew you wouldn’t be able to make it home and it’s okay. Seeing you in your blues that day meant a lot to him. He was very proud of you!”

I’ve had Buster on my mind a lot lately as I try to give hope to my troops and friends. They’ve given me so much hope these last few years during my own struggles and often remind me “Girl you’ve got this!” I try to do the same for them…to cheer them on and give them a good example of turning adversity into advantage by having hope and taking action!

This morning, I remembered something Buster told me when I was a teen. He said “Although I didn’t volunteer to serve and was drafted, the greatest blessing of serving the nation were the friends I made. I received lots of hope through friendship and leadership.” Buster was right! Leading others and building friendships both personal and professional have been the greatest blessing in my 20+ years as an Airman.

As a teacher of leadership these past sixteen years, I’ve heard and witnessed countless stories of hope. As a senior leader, so many have brought their struggles to my door, not for my solutions, but for mentorship and support. I notice the blue skies every morning no matter what I face in my personal and professional life.  I strive to give hope to others always.

There are ALWAYS blue skies and a leader must give others blue skies (hope for better days ahead). Most importantly, show your followers the blue skies too…through your personal example. Show them persistence and perseverance. Persistence is the positive energy (your will) to move forward no matter what you face. Perseverance is your endurance to keep going.

I kept going Buster and you were right!

Love & Leadership,

Erin

When They Achieve It

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If I had to pick my favorite thing about being a leader it would be when my followers achieve something great! Everyday I am honored to work with amazing Airmen and many were once my direct reports. Many have since left the United States Air Force to pursue their talents and others have far surpassed the original career goals we discussed during countless mentoring and feedback sessions.

One former Airman of mine who makes me proud today was one of my Security Forces Instructors during my second tour at Vandenberg Air Force base. The team I led during that tour had all served in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom, many on multiple 365 day deployments. I had just returned to Security Forces from an assignment as an Airman Leadership Instructor and knew that because I had not deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, I must assemble a team of Airmen and Sergeants who had tactical wartime experience to ready the next wave of our Defenders who would go to Iraq and Afghanistan. One of my Sergeants, Chris Mason-Warren had just reported into the squadron from his previous base with a passion for teaching and real-world Defender experience. He was humble and quiet and I knew I needed him on our already sterling team. So in 2009, I did what any talent scout would do…I went to my Operations Superintendent and told him where this team with Chris on it would take our squadron 2-5 years after I left.

The 30 SFS dream team did just that…they readied hundreds of Airmen for deployment and several earned accolades for bravery and heroism. Several defended a base in Afghanistan from attack and I know the training they received from Chris and the team saved countless lives.

Fast forward to September 2018 and my former troop, now Mr. Mason-Warren is doing well in the civilian sector and has an opportunity to go even further in his civilian career. This is one of many examples I could write about here. I’m very lucky to be a part of their journey a big sister mentor who encourages them. Every follower you invest in will one day pay it forward and one day you may be the one they pay it forward to. My former and current troops can and will change the world for the better and that’s the most exciting thing to watch unfold.

When they acheive their goals and reach their full potential that is when your leadership as their leader is most felt!

Never stop pushing them to greatness!

Love & Leadership,

Erin

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