Leadership Talk #1: Making the Decision

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Wether we are engaged in business or our personal lives, we are called upon to make decisions that affect ourselves, our families, processes we are responsible for, those who you answer to and those who work for you. Some are more critical than others, and even though your decision may be the right course of action; no one may like the choice you have made.

For our young people of today, making the right choices has never been more crucial as they make the transition from teen to legal adult. Each of us has already made critical but correct choices by being involved with Ani-Magic in some way, donating our time and talents to the cause of putting on a great show while learning some vital life and management skills. Even old dogs like me learn new angles on how to deal with things from working this con. Over the years, my fellow officers and I have made many decisions in guiding the direction of the con, some good, some not so good. But the fact remains that we made them. And as a card-carrying member of human society, you are required to make the call as well. But how do I do it? What if I get it wrong?

In my Air Force training, they told us three simple rules:

1. Know your people
2. Know your resources
3. Know yourself

I had a big spiel to mention about handling people and resources, but the AF mantra pretty much covers it. Here what it means in detail:

KNOW YOUR PEOPLE: People are a finite resource. They make things happen. They make you look good as a manager, or they can bring you down in flames. Take the time to learn their strengths and limitations. Most of them are your friends in AM, so you know this already. Put them to work where they are happiest and have to the chance to excel, learn another skill or improve a process you need to work. Train them to be better than when they first met you. Try not to do them harm or wrong. Be honest with them about their performance. This one’s on top for a reason: you can loose money, but you will get more eventually, you can abuse or break a machine, but it can be replaced, but abuse the spirit of a person working for you and you have hurt your process for all time.

KNOW YOUR RESOURCES: Resources are those things you have at your disposal to get the job done. They are time, money, tools and machinery, and of course, people. Of these, time is the perishable asset. Once wasted, you can’t get it back, and we’ve all wished we had more of it when Hell Week is just around the corner. A good decision requires time, and if you use it wisely, you will find that you have plenty of it to spare. Do things early, and save wear and tear on you, your equipment, your people’s nerves, and even cash (Ever hear of that old saw about time is money? We can loose money by waiting too long to get guest airfares at a late fare rate) and you will have that extra time in the bank to handle other issues that might come up at you.

KNOW YOURSELF: It’s all about you, baby! To make the right decision, you need to be on top of your game. Know your job, know what you can do and what limits you and try to reduce those limitations. Make a decision based on solid facts or sound theory, never emotion. Emotion leads to a lot of troubles here, from wasted time and assets to teen pregnancy. Decisions should be based on needs, not wants. Choices based on anger wants, or passion is to be avoided. When the tempers are flaring, the hormones rising, or that expensive import tuner is looming large in your head, it’s best to step back and think about the consequences of making such a decision to go forward into something that may change you forever. You can even go logic here; “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one” Yes, it’s movie shlock but there is some truth in that. A little Tsun Tsu: “Know your enemy and you will always be victorious” So study what makes you tick and what makes your area work, learn to step back and think things through, observe your surroundings and resources and you will be pleased with the results.

To finish up, I’d like to tell a story that after looking back on it, made these three principles evident.

In the fall of 1977, I was a sergeant in the motor pool at Hahn Air Base, Germany. Earlier in the week, I was assigned to drive a 45 passenger bus carrying the base football team to Ramstein Air Base for a flight to Zaragoza Air Base in Spain, where the USAFE (US Air Forces in Europe) fall championships were being held. When I met the group, I noticed that the team had quite a lot of equipment in addition to their personal luggage to bring along. The team rode near the front of the 35-foot long bus while the rear seats were taken up with cargo.

Friday afternoon rolls around, and it’s my turn for weekend duty supervisor along with two other airmen. Hahn had an active fleet of twenty long buses to support the daily transport of children to the base schools from the outlying villages and towns. Mr. Braun and his workers had washed, fueled, and polished up the fleet for next Monday’s runs and I was sternly admonished NOT to allow any of them to be used over the weekend. Other than a parts run to Spangdalem, picking up the team from Ramstein and a self-move truck pick-up, it was going to be an uneventful weekend.
So I thought.

Saturday morning I roll in and take charge, Airman Jones heads out on the parts run and a young lieutenant signs out a 1 1/2 ton truck with a covered stake bed to relocate his home. So far so good, and we prepare for the run to Ramstein that afternoon. Around 2:00 pm I get a phone call. It’s from SSgt Castillo, the base gym director, and football coach. “Hey, Sgt. Walker, how are you doing?” “Not bad,” I say. “How did the game go?” “We won the tournament, but we have a slight problem” he answers. “What’s the problem?” I inquire. “Well, we’re getting ready to come back, but we need extra transportation. Think we can get another bus?” ” Why the heck do you need another bus!??” I asked incredulously ” Well, the guys kinda got extra luggage while they were here.” Read: souvenirs. Spain was known for pre-built tall masted sailing ship models and replica swords at the time, and the team had stocked up for themselves and friends back in Germany.

“I’d like to help you out, guys, but I’m under orders not to dispatch another bus. Sorry.” “Okay, I understand, see ya at Ramstein.” Sgt Castillo replies and hangs up. That was the end of that, I thought. At 2:45 another call from Spain comes in. “Hi Sgt Walker, this is Col. Albritton, how’s things back at Hahn?” This is the base commander talking here. He and his wife went over to Spain to see the base team play. ” Things are pretty quiet here, sir, I hear we won.” “Yup we whupped ’em good,” he said jovially. “The coach was telling me about the bus issue, and I hope you can fix that for us if you can.” Well, we don’t disappoint the boss, so I say ” Well sir, I’m kinda tied with what I can do, but I will do what I can” “Okay” he replies, “Do that for me, will ya?” “Yes sir” I reply, and the call is ended.

Well, this changes things, I thought. I call my branch chief about the situation, and he responds as only a chief master sergeant can: “Not one bus will leave the yard! I am not running no *%$^&# souvenir taxi service!” “Okay, Chief.” Damn! Talk about a rock and hard place. Let another bus loose and I incur the wrath of my section chief, blow off the colonel and well, you know what that means. Since I did the run to send the team out, I knew what we were dealing with, so I started devising ways to compact the luggage and squeeze people in Boy Scout style.

The Ramstein run time loomed large on the clock, and then something happened. The Lt. shows up with the covered wagon at 3:30 and Airman Jones returns from the parts run, giving me another driver. By the time second shift arrives, I had the truck refueled and ready to dispatch with my two airmen headed to Ramstein to meet the flight. I only needed to give them time off later in the week for helping me out of a jam.

It was a sound decision, but I still caught heck for it. When my lead supervisor questioned why I sent out the truck, I replied that the order was not to allow another BUS to be dispatched. By sending the 1 1/2 ton covered wagon along with the scheduled bus run, I obeyed that order, satisfied the transportation needs of the team and the request of my wing commander to help them out. And I stood by it. Later on, the commander came by the office and reinforced that decision as a good call! My drivers confirmed our suspicions about the “luggage” as they described the scene at the MAC Terminal, with all manner of crated ships being loaded onto the truck along with all the football gear, which allowed for the team to have extra space in the bus.

I consider this my first critical test in decision making and one of the proudest moments in my career. When placed in charge of people, resources and given what I knew, I made the right choices.

Revell Walker
Cheif Executive Officer, AVAS

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