Change Happens

by Col. Joycelyn Elaiho
86th Medical Group commander

The U.S. military is known as the best military in the world. The service I joined years ago looks a lot different from the one we have today.

If you have served or have been associated with the military for any substantial length of time, you will probably agree that it has changed whether we like it or not.

I have had the privilege to ride the waves of many scary initiatives, often accompanied by an obsession with words like “restructuring,” “reinvention,” “redesign” and “re-engineering,” to name a few. It’s no wonder when faced with escalating cost to maintain our government, skyrocketing health care costs, the number of years we have been at war with the steady operations tempo, force shaping of the military services, etc., these modifications can likely be viewed as chaotic. Increasingly, Airmen feel they no longer have a sturdy career ladder to climb and instead may feel they are grasping for stability with little or no control.
I offer three guiding principles for your reflection during today’s transformational challenges:

First, change happens, so we must welcome it. I view change as an opportunity.
In health care, the conversion of the majority of our Air Force hospitals to clinics and combining resources with other branches of service was infected with uncertainty. Many feared the BRAC realignments years ago with their lengthy deliberations. In fact, some worried incessantly about the potential atrocious results.

Years later, even if I have to say so myself, the changes have saved the services money, enhanced community health care collaboration, and advanced medical training, research and technology.

If you’ve been watching the news lately, the barrage of controversy about our country’s plummeting economy and uncertain future can make even the strongest heart falter. All are pointing fingers at each other and many of us are increasingly concerned. Whether the level of panic is justified or not, everyone must recognize, in spite of what we read or see on television, what is going on with your job or in your life and make a strenuous effort to always seek opportunities to grow. When change happens, I perform a self-analysis and often come to the conclusion that it could be time to adjust my expectations, behavior and/or attitude. During change, ask yourself, “Where do you go from here and what lessons have you learned?” Is there something you need to do that you have perhaps been putting off? Now is likely the time.

It may not be enough these days to claim competency in one field or professional area. The reality of today demands competence and skills one can use to expand your future possibilities and circle of influence. The education and training office is a great place to start for those interested in advancing their academic pursuits.

Finally, you must lead from the front. I heard these blistering comments from a leader years ago while whining about one or our Air Force Medical Service transformational initiatives. At the time, unable to understand the big picture, I couldn’t believe what those obviously out of touch with the real world, misinformed leaders could have possibly been thinking to arrive at such a crazy concept or decision. Now, I am one of those leaders, and I shudder to think what my Airmen may be thinking about me and my executive staff.

As leaders called to lead during troubled times, we must certainly be able to build rapport and thrust our team toward a common goal.

One must do this with compassion and great empathy, however we cannot do it without clearly communicating what we mean and adhering to what we advocate. Your people must know they can trust you, your intentions and your final decisions.
Feedback must be frequent, open and honest. Thomas Jefferson said, “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.” A true leader must be grounded in unwavering principles, have constant self-awareness and be able to self-regulate ― one cannot always look at others as the source of a problem.

America is still the greatest country in the world. It has simply changed and will continue to do so in the future. I challenge you to welcome the change, adjust accordingly, and seek opportunities to grow our country into a better place to live and work. It won’t happen without your leadership and courage.