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Face to face communication

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- Today, I received and reviewed, with great concern, the alarmingly high Air Force suicide rates for FY12. As of 27 Mar we have had 30 suicides for the year compared to 23 at this same time last year. You may be thinking, "Chief, why are you telling me this?" I would respond that I believe one of the many things we as leaders and Airmen can do to reverse this negative trend is employ increased face to face communication with your Airmen. I'm a people person and I believe it's about getting out there to Visit, Mentor, Socialize and most importantly...CARE!!

I'm not one for writing commentaries however, this disturbing information has inspired me to write about the importance of personally communicating with our people rather than being fully enveloped in this electronic day and age of sending a quick text or email. Leaders need to get out from behind the desk and visit Airmen, the people we work with day in and day out. Communicating in person has always been - and remains so today - extremely important in today's Air Force.

We have all been ingrained with the definition of leadership. After reading numerous professional military education articles, one could recite a phrase that would probably sound like, "Leadership is the art or the ability of an individual to influence and direct others to contribute toward the effectiveness and success of the organization and its mission."

There are other ways to describe leadership. Ultimately, leadership is the ability of great leaders to effectively and efficiently lead Airmen to execute the wing's mission while making Airmen fully understand and feel their immeasurable contribution to the success of the Air Force's overall mission. In my humble opinion, that exemplifies true leadership.

Effective personal communication is no small task in today's military. With units deploying to multiple war zones, issues associated with increased family separation, long hours backfilling at home because 60 percent of the shop is gone, and countless others factors, Airmen may feel a heavy physical and/or mental burden of which no rank is immune.

Within our advanced military culture, we have come to a crossroads with regard to communicating with our folks. Long forgotten is the talent of the "one-on-one, face-to-face" mentoring that was commonplace in our Air Force of yesterday. E-mail has certainly expedited the communication process, but it has also hindered, to some degree, the ability and willingness of some of us to "get out from behind the desk". It's taken away from the time we spend with our Airmen because we spend so much time e-mailing. I've seen Airmen send e-mails to someone 10 feet away from them in the same office. Is this the way we want to communicate with each other in today's stressful environment?

In a peacetime military atmosphere, relying on e-mail to communicate is sufficient. But a wartime force with all the demands placed upon it needs face-to-face communication. An often neglected leadership principle in today's environment of technology is getting to know your workers and showing sincere interest in their problems, career development and welfare. It's hard to show someone you really do care about them in an e-mail.

I believe today, more than ever, we need to put more emphasis back on face-to-face communication. General Ronald R. Fogleman, former Air Force chief of staff, once said, "To become successful leaders, we must first learn that no matter how good the technology or how shiny the equipment, people-to-people relations get things done in our organizations. ... If you are to be a good leader, you have to cultivate your skills in the arena of personal relations."

I believe cultivating our personal skills is as simple as just taking the time to talk to your subordinates and get to know them, the things they like, the things they dislike and their hobbies. Or, perhaps ascertain from the "young Airman" about his or her next deployment. Show them you genuinely care for them. A leader who knows his Airmen will be able to recognize when one of them is having problems either in their personal life or with assigned tasks and hopefully you will be able to take steps and actions to affect change in the situation. I will ask you - If you don't know what normal behavior is from one of your Airmen....how will you know what abnormal is?

As the PFE states, "Leadership involvement is the key ingredient to maximizing worker performance and hence the mission". With that said, get out there and lead your Airmen from the front...they deserve good leadership. Finally, the demands of the ongoing war efforts not only need your attention...but require it. Let's face it - we cannot provide the leadership required from behind the desk.