AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar --
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Air force, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
A little over ten years ago I was in the Distinguished Visitor’s room of the Manhattan Dining Facility as part of a Company Grand Officer Council mentoring lunch with the then-wing commander, Lt. Gen. Ted "Kmart" Kresge. He spoke to us about many things that day, but the one that sticks with me most was when he told us to "expand our ‘we’." I didn’t fully understand it at the time, but its relevance became abundantly clear once I took command of a squadron about three years ago.
What does it mean to "expand our ‘we’?" Before we can expand it, we first have to define it. According to Merriam-Webster, "we" means, "I and the rest of a group that includes me." Pretty basic, right? Let’s break it down a little further though by considering the last part of it, the "rest of a group that includes me." Each one of us has been part of various groups since the day we were born. Whether it was our family, our 1st-grade classroom, or our junior sports teams, "we" has been part of our basic human needs.
To me, the concept of "we" is a vital part of any community or organization. It helps us define our beliefs, our values and our principles. It provides comfort and security to be surrounded by those like us. Quite simply, it defines us. "We" are the good guys. "We" are the ones that get things right. "We" root for the home team. "We" all want to be on the side of the victorious.
So how can "we" be expanded? Let’s start by asking a few questions. How do you identify yourself? By the sports teams you follow? The state you grew up in? Your heritage? Clubs or professional organizations? These are all great, and are often the source of a healthy banter… just ask any Dodgers or Giants fans. In the military, how do you identify yourself? By your shop? Flight? How about your squadron? Getting back to Lt Gen Kresge’s comments, those are not big enough. He challenged us that day to do identify ourselves at a much larger level and then work our way down. "We" should start at the top. Here at Al Udeid, that starts with recognizing "we" are the coalition.
This is important because how "we" is applied affects our decision making processes. All of us have been in discussions with "other" organizations trying to hash out a problem. How have you portrayed the "other" organizations? Were "they" on the same team as "us?" Were "their" goals compatible with yours? In any negotiation or dispute it’s human nature for an us-versus-them construct to develop. Remember, "we" all want to be on the side of the victors, because in our business, second place is not acceptable. "They" must lose if "we" are to win.
However, this can limit our ability to get to the optimal solution for the entire organization. "They" sounds like an enemy, right? "We" will do almost anything to ensure "they" don’t win. For example, the best solution for a maintainer might not be the best answer for our overall mission. Similarly, the optimal engineer solution may have significant operational impact that makes that course of action infeasible, no matter how efficient or simple it would be to execute. However, if "we" all look at the problem while applying a filter of achieving common objectives, "we" can do amazing things. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t advocate for the functional areas we represent. The Air Force and the coalition need us to be the best civil engineers, maintainers, aircrew, medics, etc. We should all know how to leverage our expertise to get to those common objectives.
A great illustration of correctly applying functional expertise and "expanding our we" was the recent arrival of the B-52 Stratofortress. The bed down planning team consisted of functional experts from every group on this base. There were weekly meetings followed by daily conversations to identify requirements and work out details to support the newest members of our wing. Together, the team was able to overcome numerous obstacles that many said were impossible. Functional areas compromised and worked together so that "we" could get the aircraft here on time. In fact, "we" were ready ahead of schedule, precisely because "we" came together and worked as a single organization instead of a series of parochial cylinders of excellence.
When applied correctly, "we" is one of the most powerful concepts in our society. By providing a common objective to a larger organization we have the ability to leverage almost limitless capabilities. "We" are the coalition. "We" are Americans. "We" are Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines. "We" can do anything. So let’s "expand our we" a little every day and reserve "them" or "they" for the folks we’re taking the fight to every day.