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Learn Their Story

U.S. Air Force graphic

U.S. Air Force graphic

BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, California -- In an interview with Larry King, Jerry Seinfeld was asked: What makes a comedian really good? Jerry responded by saying that a good comedian cares for and knows his audience. That is to say, a good comedian develops his act in a way that has meaning to the audience. The comedian understands that jokes need to be tailored to the patrons.

Good leadership is very similar. Leaders must find an approach that will inspire, mentor and develop their Airmen. We live in a very diverse world and work in an Air Force that is equally diverse. This requires us to tailor our message to each Airman. It doesn't mean that we should tell someone exactly what they want to hear, but deliver a message that Airmen will listen and respond to.

The only way to do this is to get to know your Airmen.

Knowing your Airmen is the key to making yourself a good "comedian." Learn everything that you can from them. Learn about their family, what makes them unique and what motivates them. Leaders who take the time to get to know their people can provide personalized support when challenges and issues arise that might prevent Airmen from achieving their goals. This is not a revolutionary or new idea, but an aspect of our jobs that we often put aside in lieu of the technical roles we play.

General Welsh said in a speech to U.S. Air Force Academy cadets, "Everybody has a story. If you don't know the story you can't lead. Learn the story."

As a first sergeant, my job is people. Everyone is my business, but in reality Airmen should be everybody's business. We must understand that there is no force behind the Air Force without people, and we must pay attention to the needs of our Airmen to be successful.

Our Airmen must be able to trust in leaders, and relationships are the foundation of that trust. So get out from behind your computer and invest time in building relationships. Like a good comedian, show concern and get to know your audience. It will make you a better leader and ultimately push you to invest in what's most important -- your Airmen and our future Air Force leaders.