Effective leaders embrace change

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Kimberly Howerton
  • 507th Air Refueling Wing process manager

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- There is a quote from a wonderful first grade teacher I worked with for several years who encouraged her students to attempt tasks that they found challenging. She wanted to teach them that it is better to try and fail than to never attempt anything.


“If you can’t make a mistake, you can’t make anything,” she would say.


With these simple words, she challenged her first-grade students to boldly step out into the world.


At first, it may sound like a negative phrase, but for the students of first grade teacher, Ms. Haynes, it was inspiring. It was the voice of reassurance.


In 2017, squadron revitalization teams visited Air Force bases to spread the word that the Air Force needed to be rebuilt from the bottom up. I felt that our leadership was taking a page from Ms. Haynes’ book, because Airmen soon responded with suggestions on how to improve readiness and lethality.


Everyone was asked to step out, take a risk, share ideas and express concerns—to be an agent of change.


It is exciting for all Airmen to see how leadership seeks to improve and innovate our capabilities, readiness and lethality.


Continuous Process Improvement is structured to improve and innovate our processes and it’s in constant motion around us. For instance, assembly line workers rotate jobs at intervals, which serves two purposes: One, it keeps the individual worker from developing repetitive motion injuries and reduces mistakes, and two, swapping out regularly prevents complacency and keeps them actively engaged.


Too often Airmen of all ranks become comfortable with completing tasks and processes “the way we’ve always done it.” Unfortunately, repetition can lull the most dedicated Airman into complacency.


Leaders must empower Airmen to seek innovative ways to complete tasks, support process improvement and update work areas and equipment in order to accomplish the mission.


Having experienced the Air Force from pre-computer and Internet days, I’ve seen the benefits of accepting change and even embracing it.


I would challenge leaders at all levels to look at processes and begin asking the questions:


When was the last time we reviewed our processes?


Did we consider the needs of our customers and our Airmen?


Do we incorporate new methods and techniques?


When a new Airman arrives in the squadron from technical school or returns from a workshop, do we invite them to share the latest innovations and techniques with us?


Often times, we brush off new equipment, technologies, innovations, and maybe even younger Airmen with fresh ideas because we don’t want, or feel the need, to change.


Leaders seek change. It is only when we open ourselves to change that we lead the force.


Our Air Force Reserve units have a continuous process improvement practitioner to help leaders at all levels bring positive change. Be a leader and seek them out today.