Professionalism, fundamental to leadership

by Chief Master Sgt. Frank J. Lakotich
Operations Superintendent, 86th Civil Engineer Squadron

As I look around and interact with the Airmen assigned to Ramstein and within the KMC, I’m truly amazed at the number of technological advances the Air Force has experienced since I joined 27 years ago.

As basic as advancing from carbon-copy forms, typewriters and the skills to manually operate them to autofill digital forms and computers on each desk, the past several decades have proven our abilities to leverage technology to do more with less.

Still, one thing has not changed through the years — the demand for our Airmen to be the most dedicated and true professionals our country has to offer. Professionalism has and always will be the foundation for which our missions and core values are built upon and it strengthens our ability to work as a team to accomplish anything.

I’ve been asked by many Airmen what the one skillset is imperative to being a successful leader is. That skillset is professionalism, period. The follow-up question usually is my definition of the word, and I always respond without a definition and a series of questions for them to answer.

Do you lead by example? Do you walk past that piece of trash on the ground, or do you stop and pick it up? Do you address everyone as ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’, say ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ when appropriate, and treat others as you want to be treated? Do you actively listen to folks when they’re talking to you, or are you preoccupied multitasking on your smartphone? These are a few observations I ask folks to reflect upon to help define the meaning of professional.

But professionalism doesn’t stop there or at the end of each work shift. We’re Airmen — 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We’re expected to maintain those professional behaviors off duty as well.

When standing in line seven-people-deep with only one register open, when posting our opinions on social networking sites, and when interacting with our host nation friends, the expectation to be professional remains steadfast and without question.

Before you put on your “Facebook lawyer” hat and post something, ask yourself if this is something you’re ready to answer to with your leadership. If the answer to that question is ‘no’ or you hesitated in your decision, then it’s probably safe to say it’s not professional.

It is very important to remember we’re ambassadors here, and our behavior while stationed abroad reflects not only on ourselves, but the country we swore to defend. It’s expected we treat our hosts with the utmost professionalism while we are guests in their country.

Why am I sharing this with you? With the constant mission churn, numerous changes the past year in our processes, and our heavy deployment requirements on the horizon, now, more than ever, is the time to reflect on ourselves and tighten up those behaviors which don’t measure up to the expectation.

I see and address it every day. With everyone’s continued effort to exceed expectations, “Good-ship Ramstein” will continue to be the place to be in Europe, and I have no doubt for many years to come. It starts with your professionalism. Are you ready to lead?