Challenges, choices and consequences

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Shelia Knox
  • 42nd Misson Support Group superintendent
As a Chief, you are often approached and asked this question: "What are some words of wisdom you can pass on that helped you get where you are?" Well I can't promise you any sacred words of wisdom, however I would like to share with you a simple formula that I have used to help guide me both personally and professionally.

It's what I refer to as the 3C's of life. And no, I am not referring to cars, cash, and cell phones, nor am I referring to Cross-cultural competency. The 3C's I am referring to are challenges, choices and consequences.

Let's take a look at the first C:


Our nation, as well as our Air Force, are facing significant challenges and need one another now more than ever before. We are continuously faced with budget cuts, time restraints, high-ops tempo, and the list could go on and on.

Our professional challenges will more often than not be tied to our mission to "Fly, Fight, and Win." However, the bigger issue is how we lead through these challenges to accomplish the mission.

How do we do that? We go back to the basics. The basics to me are rooted in the Profession of Arms, or POA. Most of us get a reminder of the importance of POA through Professional Military Education, or PME.

I had the honor of serving at the Air Force Senior NCO Academy, from an instructor to vice commandant, and I am confident that every curriculum hour and every lesson covered is somehow tied to the Profession of Arms.

When Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz was addressing students at the National Defense University he stated, "I suggest that the better stewards we are in the Profession of Arms, the better prepared we will be to secure the victory, and the less frequently we will be called upon to prove our preparedness..."

So for the few that feel like the stuff taught in PME is not the real Air Force, I beg to differ. You are given tools to make you more effective and better prepared leaders, and you may not be able to apply everything. However, I am confident you will gain some nuggets that you will later be able to reach back to and better face life's challenges.

We can be guaranteed that every day we will be faced with a challenge, some greater than others, some professional and some personal. But how we handle those challenges will be determined by the choices we make.

This leads to the second C:


This C is very personal to me because when I think of the implications of having a choice, it means you and I hold a stake in the outcome of the challenges. We get to choose how we lead, whether through peacetime or adversity. I hope when we make a choice, we rely on a common foundation, which again takes us back to the basics - our core values.

Will you exercise integrity first, or will you exercise integrity when it is convenient? Will you practice service before self as a rule of thumb, or will you practice service before self when it doesn't require you to be uncomfortable? And will you execute excellence in all you do, or will you execute excellence in all you choose to do?

In making those choices, a lot of material covered in PME will better equip you to make choices. Also, when faced with a choice to make, don't be afraid to network. Based on surveys/feedback and conversation in the hallways, networking, sharing, and relationships established among peers continue to be some of the greatest take-a-ways from the PME experience.

Take advantage of your brain trust. The things I cherished the most from all my PME experiences were the relationships built and networking. And I have reached back on numerous occasions to garner advice and counsel. President Woodrow Wilson once said, "I not only use all the brains I have, but all I can borrow." Remember, there is nothing new under the sun, so whatever you are experiencing, bounce it off of a trusted confidant. I am sure they have gone through something similar, but remember, now that you made a choice, can you live with the consequences.

Which brings me to the last C:


When I think of consequences, accountability comes to mind. Can you stand behind the choices you made? Did you evaluate the risk? Did you make the best decision with the information you had?

I recall asking a student what she felt would make her a more effective leader.

She said it would be what she learned about providing feedback and the importance of an effective performance counseling session. Now those nuggets will pay huge dividends when it comes to consequences.

Why? Because now that Airmen better understand the standards, what is expected, what behaviors they exhibited that was not meeting the standards, and more importantly the required action for course correction, they are held responsible and accountable for the consequences associated with their actions.

When I was preparing a speech to address a NCO Academy graduating class, I asked some AFSNCOA students if they had the opportunity to get a message to junior NCOs, who were about to complete their second level of PME, what would that be. Or better yet, what was a lesson learned from their junior NCOs days that they would like to share.

They simply said, "Chief, please pass on to them to take their role as supervisors and as leaders seriously. Our Air Force is counting on them to prepare future leaders." They also said, "Remind them of the importance of taking care of their Airmen, even when it means giving them tough love. AND BY THE WAY, HAVE FUN DOING IT!" I agreed with them wholeheartedly.

I hope that when you are faced with challenges your choices will be governed by the core values. And when the consequences from your choices surface, do you stand ready to accept accountability?

I wish us all the best as we continue our leadership journey in our great Air Force, and maybe one day you will share with your Airmen the 3C's of life, and you may have to remind them that it's not cash, cars, or cell phones, and it's not even cross-cultural competencies - but a more personal calling of challenges, choices, and consequences.