‘Graduating’ colonel shares Air Force lessons learned

by Col. Mike Delman435th Mission Support Group commander

***image1***Five years ago, I gave a speech to the University of Virginia’s 1999 Reserve Officer Training Corps graduating class and compared the state of the U.S. Air Force at that time to the time of my commissioning in 1979.
I concluded my speech with lessons learned that I trusted would make a difference in these new lieutenants’ professional and personal lives.
Next month, I “graduate” from the U.S. Air Force after 25 years of service, and I want to share some of those lessons, which remain valuable today:
First, you have only one opportunity to make a first impression. Make it your best and live up to it. Look sharp and be polite. Don’t forget that there is no substitute for hard work and perseverance; although working smart ranks right up there.
Next, work your boss’s agenda and other priorities will easily fall into place. Also, keep your boss informed. If that little voice inside your head asks, “Should I tell the boss?” then you probably should. I’ve never met a person who was counseled for providing too much information.
Remember the adage: Bad news, like bad wine, doesn’t get better with time. On the phone, in person, or via e-mail, if you say you don’t know, follow with “I’ll find out” or direct the person to someone who can help. It’s a character thing.
Always important is to network, network and network. Over a career, you’ll find the Air Force community is indeed a small world, and you’ll see many people over and over that you met during earlier assignments. Second to networking: do your best to remember names of people you work with. This is a tremendous asset in your professional and personal toolbox. It shows that meeting a person was important and that they made an impression upon you.
Make sure you know your limitations, but don’t be afraid to make mistakes; just don’t make the same mistake twice. If you’re wrong, apologize and move on and don’t be afraid to admit that there’s a better mousetrap than the one you designed. Over the span of a career, people will adopt many of your ideas.
Practice listening. It is an art that in part balances arrogance. Be firm, be fair, be consistent. There is nothing worse than unpredictability. If you set responsible expectations, it will lead to positive action and legacy results. Pay attention to details; work with pace and tenacity and take time to re-charge your batteries.
Finally, always remember that the U.S. Air Force gets its mission accomplished by “TEAM”work — Together Everyone Accomplishes More. Respecting others is a key ingredient to accomplishment.
If you take only a handful of these lessons to heart and put them to use, they’ll make a difference in your life and in the pursuit of making a difference for others we serve.
The Air Force has provided me, over the last 25 years, the privilege and opportunity to make a difference in the lives of those I’ve served. It’s been an honor to support you.