“The core skill in social awareness is empathy – sensing what others are thinking and feeling without them telling you in words.” – Daniel Goleman
As I look back on the past year, we have seen some crises begin to wane. Operation Allies Refuge and Operation Allies Welcome safely resettled more than 70,000 Afghans into the United States. The effectiveness of our pandemic response has enabled nearly all of our bases to return to Health Protection Condition Alpha. A budget has passed, which will enable the stability we need to complete our missions.
In the April 2021 issue of Citizen Airman, I wrote about how developing resilient leaders can be complex. That resiliency is being tested as new crises emerge. We face increased mental health strain as a result of the two Afghan operations. We are witnessing some of our teammates transition to the Individual Ready Reserve, or out of the service completely, with the noncompliance of medical readiness. We see a global super power militarily invade the sovereign territory of a neighboring democracy.
All of these challenges affect each of us differently. As leaders, we need to recognize how these challenges affect ourselves, as well as how they affect the Airmen around us. Strong emotional intelligence is needed in our leaders to effectively recognize and respond to a struggling teammate.
As I write this, Russia continues to push toward the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. We hear reports of major cities being the subject of ongoing onslaught. Millions of Ukrainians have been displaced, causing a new refugee crisis. I had hoped I would never have to see this level of a full-scale war in my lifetime.
The one thing I charge all of you with is this: Empathy.
We must remain empathetic to not just the Airmen in our service, but all the members of our sister services. There are many who are of Ukrainian or Russian descent who are especially affected by the recent events. There are many who are struggling with the events of the past two years of COVID and how to reconcile their personal beliefs with their years of service. There are many who have a personal experience with the Afghanistan withdrawal and feel a range of emotions. Empathy for our fellow service members is the key to truly understanding those around us, which allows us to become effective leaders.
I had the opportunity to chair the Air Force Reserve Command Airmen of the Year board where I got to see the result of emotionally intelligent leaders first‑hand. I learned of an NCO who used her language skill-set to help navigate cultural divides between our members and Afghan refugees. Her initiatives allowed for the recognition and de-escalation of emotional conflicts before an incident occurred. I learned about a first sergeant standing up a group dedicated to members who supported the Operation Allies Refuge humanitarian mission. This group grew to more than 13,000 participants and helped identify individual mental health crises for those affected. I learned about a first sergeants council that stepped up to lead hard discussions concerning extremism within our force.
These leaders show they have the ability to recognize, understand and influence their own emotions and the emotions of others in a positive way. Those are the types of leaders we need. With all the crises we face, there is one thing I know for certain: There will always be challenges. Our ability to lead others in, around and through those challenges is what defines us as leaders.
I started this commentary with a quote from Daniel Goleman, and I will end with one as well: “There is an old‑fashioned word for the body of skills that emotional intelligence represents: Character.”
As always, I am honored and humbled to serve as your command chief.