Commentary - What I believe

by Lt. Gen. David S. Fadok
Air University commander and president

8/19/2011 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- After a change of command, people generally want, and genuinely need, to know how the new boss will lead them during his or her tenure. As commander and president of the Air University, I would like to share three leadership beliefs and seven organizational principles that shape my outlook and underpin my expectations. These overarching ideals and traits reflect my personal experiences and the professional mentoring I have received from other leaders over the course of my career. They reflect what I believe.


People first, mission always.
Some people believe that taking care of your people and taking care of the mission is a zero sum game. In other words, focusing on people can only come at the expense of the mission, or vice versa. I don't think that's true. Commanders who do good jobs taking care of their people will have people who do great jobs taking care of the mission. While I put people first, I never take my eye off the mission. Both people and mission are my responsibilities as the unit leader.

We are a team and a family.

I think most folks instinctively understand the importance of team building. It is mission-oriented and all about successfully achieving unit goals and objectives together as one. Creating a family atmosphere within organizations is equally important to me because it's all about building better wingmen. The stressors we face in today's Air Force are unlike those we've ever faced before, and you never know when you are going to need to rally around a fellow Airman.

Having fun is serious business.

Volkswagen has produced some interesting video clips on something it calls the fun theory. Simply put, this theory proposes that the easiest way to change behavior for the better is by making things fun to do. I am a fun theory fanatic. Injecting some fun into our workplace makes us more productive and fundamentally changes our outlook for the better.


Integrity: Do the right thing. It builds trust. Trust builds unit cohesion.
Integrity is something that resonates with every Airman because it is our very first core value. Integrity matters to me because its absence results in distrust among unit members, and eventually distrust among members will lead to a dysfunctional organization unable to accomplish its mission. On the other hand, the presence of integrity infuses an organization with trust and leads to cohesive groups of people who get the job done.

Unity of effort: A common understanding of mission and vision. All oars pulling hard and pulling together.
As part of a rowing crew in graduate school, I learned the importance of this principle. Every member of the crew has an important role to play, and how you perform your role affects how others perform theirs. All oars need to move in cadence and in unison.

Everyone's performance together yields the successful outcome for the team.

Initiative: Anticipate mission needs. Take charge and move out.
When I attended Squadron Officer School in the 1980s, I was introduced to something called the Read/Act model. People who are "big Rs" are very good at "reading" a given situation and defining problems at hand.

People who are "big As" are very good at "acting" upon a given situation and developing solutions to the problems at hand. To me, initiative is all about reading well and acting quickly and accurately without having to be told.

Creativity: Think boundlessly. Act effectively and efficiently.
Albert Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge."

Creativity will become increasingly important as we enter a future of diminishing resources. We can no longer afford the old ways of doing business. We have to explore new ways to educate America's Airmen without jeopardizing the gold standard that people have come to expect from the Air University. We must think outside the box in order to get the most bang for the buck.

Enthusiasm: Attitude matters. Your job matters. Enjoy making a difference!
I see no reason not to be enthusiastic about what we do. We're the intellectual and leadership center of the Air Force, and we produce the future. Our mission matters. We should be proud of that fact, and we should let that pride show. Attitudes are contagious, so make yours a good one.

Perseverance: Adversity may get you down, but don't let it keep you down. Use setbacks to charge forward.
This is a trait that I deeply admire. I believe the true mark of an individual is how he or she handles the setbacks in life. Whenever I mentor those who have experienced personal or professional adversity, I counsel perseverance. When life knocks you down, it's critically important to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and press ahead. And never forget that getting through the hard times is not something we do alone. We persevere with the help of our wingmen.

Civility: Be kind. Recognize and respect the dignity in others. Smile.
Like integrity, civility is vital to the proper functioning of any organization. A civil work environment is enjoyable, productive and necessary. In times of high stress, such an environment may not always be easy to achieve, but it is something we absolutely must pursue.

Let me close by acknowledging that I've had the privilege of working directly for the last three Air University commanders, Generals Regni, Lorenz and Peck. While I do not possess the talents of these predecessors, I can assure you I share their passion for the military education mission we are charged to execute. Kat and I look forward to achieving great things with you, the talented and devoted members of the Maxwell-Gunter and River Region communities.