Lorenz on Leadership -- Love your people

  • Published
  • By Gen. Stephen R. Lorenz
  • Commander, Air Education and Training Command
I have gained a wealth of knowledge during my career, but one point remains at the top of the list ... love your people. Through Lorenz on Leadership articles and presentations, I have shared countless personal stories. While they always have different themes, one constant is the wonderful examples and lessons from people I have met. Our Airmen are priceless. They are what make our Air Force the most powerful in the world.

Loving your people is a personal tenet I fervently believe in and live to uphold each day. It is core to my passion and drive as a member of the Armed Forces and is an essential trait for leaders. Our military force's diverse makeup of service members and their families are themselves powerful reminders of the special charge we have been given as leaders in service to our country.

A humbling example of this is the story of Bradley and Sara Sullivan. Eighteen months ago Brad, an Air Force captain, was preparing for his first deployment as an F-16 pilot. Amidst the flurry of pre-deployment activities, his family received two life-changing announcements. First, he and his wife were pregnant with their first child. Second, Sara was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer at the age of 28.

Following a number of difficult choices, Brad and Sara moved to San Antonio to begin her chemotherapy, which would allow Sara to stave off cancer and still allow normal growth of their baby. To their delight, treatment went as planned. However, during the third trimester the pregnancy became increasingly complicated due to the effects of the chemotherapy, and Sara was placed on bed rest. On Sept. 8, 2009, Brad and Sara welcomed their daughter Chloe Grace into their family.

But their struggles were not over. Less than two weeks after Chloe was born, Brad and Sara were back in the hospital. Sara had suffered a massive stroke, thought to be a result of the physical ailments her body received from pregnancy and chemo. Within days of her return to Wilford Hall Medical Center, Sara was on life support and declared brain dead. She passed away shortly thereafter.

One of the many constants that continue to sustain Capt. Sullivan is the community and network of unit leadership, friends and family at Randolph Air Force Base. You see, Brad and Sara were warmly welcomed into a unit that accepted them unconditionally and lovingly met every challenge with them as a family.

From the day of Sara's first hospitalization, their family was never alone as friends and family regularly visited. There was an even greater outpouring of support when Sara passed away. Now, as Chloe fast approaches her first birthday, Brad and his daughter are gifted daily with words of support, meals, and anything else required to help them walk in their new life. When difficult decisions had to be made after Sara's passing, Brad had a Family Liaison Officer present or a member of unit leadership who was fully prepared to present him with all options for his family. All of this is a result of a culture of community -- one that begins within our Air Force and reaches out to every member of our families.

Critical to loving your people is knowing them. Not just what they do or their reputation at work, but genuinely knowing them. As leaders and peers we must invest the time to determine what moves and motivates those around us. It is essential we know names of spouses and children. It is also imperative we understand the perspectives our people share. We must see the view an individual maintains of the world around them. This dictates an investment of time spent with them to hear their stories and life experiences. This stands to strengthen the bond you share with fellow Airmen and allows you to lead effectively.

Inevitably the investment we make in our people is returned. Oftentimes the return comes at a time of crisis, as in the story of Brad Sullivan. It is during this time that we owe it to those around us to focus centrally on what is in the best interest of the member affected.

Loving your Airmen is not a catch phrase, nor does it mean passively asking someone how their day is going. Rather, it is an active process, an investment on the part of leaders and fellow Airmen. You never know when you are going to make a difference, so never pass up an opportunity to reach out to those around you and invest in their lives. Trust me, it is an investment that will pay dividends for the rest of your life.