Parenting , leadership -- not mutually exclusive

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Lauren Wright
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
He's been a helicopter pilot. He's run a marathon. He graduated in the top 10 percent of his college class. He's a passionate flyfisherman. And for the past 24 years, he's been my dad.

I can't imagine a more difficult or rewarding job.

I am not a parent, and I've only been an Air Force officer a short time, but I've been a daughter and have seen many Father's Days. My observations indicate that parenting and supervising have a lot in common.

Now that I am an officer, when I find myself in a bind, I look to lessons from fathers. Some tips my dad bestowed on me daily through repetitious lectures, and some lessons I observed from other dads. For better or worse, they are part of my leadership toolkit.

Airmen of all ages, and all levels of experience, can learn much by looking at their parents as leaders and parenthood as leadership. Here are some that I've learned:

Provide discipline with love, and love with discipline.
Airmen of all ages and ranks should know supervisors, like parents, are invested in their personal and professional success. When Dad punished me for calling my brother a name or talking back to Mom, I never doubted that he cared about me and wanted me to succeed. But after he cheered for me during a softball game, he'd also give me a laundry list of my errors. Dad showed me leadership by pushing his expectations and my limits, while reinforcing them with a positive attitude.

Earn loyalty.
Dad went on business trips. He didn't make every game, but he'd ask for a recap. As Air Force members, our time with our families can be disrupted by mission requirements, deployments and long work days; but Dad taught me that allegiance to family can be demonstrated from a distance.

Work hard.

Express yourself for the right reason.
Crying and anger are healthy, excess of anything is not. As backup catcher on a premier softball team, my friend made an error that had no impact on the game. Her father, however, nearly jumped through the fence. His piercing words of disapproval distracted her. She made a second and third error, which did affect the game. Emotions can demonstrate a sense of pride, ownership and commitment. Yet excessive emotion undermines authority, detracts from the mission and can be perceived as personal insecurity. Moderation is key to a good mindset for parenting and leaders.

Having options makes a difference.
If taking one more class meant finishing with a double major, why not? If you have the talent and time to play three sports, why play two? As a follower, it's important to know when the boss has made a final decision, and when it's necessary and beneficial to present alternative options.

There is no box to think outside of.
Some obstacles can be overcome, but potential obstacles shouldn't limit brainstorming. Also, don't let roles get in the way of good ideas. I've outsmarted my dad more times than he would like to admit. My office has definitely outsmarted me. Bottom line: Let the good ideas rise to the top.

Keep lectures in your head.
Parents and supervisors love to lecture and impart wisdom, but the message, whether to an Airmen or a family member, can get lost in the delivery. It's also important to remember that Airmen are not children. We are adults who made a conscious decision to support and defend this country. At any age, at any rank, Airmen need feedback and preparation, not lectures.

A genuine 'thank you' goes a long way.
As you pause this Father's Day to reflect upon your own experiences, from childhood to adulthood, think about how these experiences have impacted your life in the Air Force and how the Air Force has impacted your relationships with your family. Use these thoughts to show those around you that you appreciate them.

My limited time in the Air Force has taught me a great deal, and I look forward to absorbing wisdom from experienced members so I can better contribute to the profession of arms, but at the end of the day, these contributions will be influenced by my relationship with my father, whose leadership influence deserves a 'thank you' everyday.