Lorenz on Leadership -- Professional advocacy

Gen. Stephen R. Lorenz, commander of the Air Education and Training Command

Gen. Stephen R. Lorenz, Commander, Air Education and Training Command

RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- As a service member, I have fought for programs and resources throughout my career. In many cases these battles were a matter of advocacy -- my opportunity to fight for things I believed in. I began facing these challenging moments within days of my entry into military service. As a result, I have come to embrace several principles of professional advocacy that I want to share with you.

We all have personal beliefs and individual opinions. However, as service members we are expected to advocate for professional positions. You must establish what the issues are that require your professional energy and passion. These issues will vary as your careers progress from junior- to senior-level leadership, especially in the face of diminishing resources and ever- increasing global challenges.

A vision without resources is an illusion.

You must possess a vision. This is both a personal and professional expectation. We all have goals or beliefs that we want to see come to fruition for our unit and mission. These ideas vary in complexity and range in purpose from tactical to strategic. As we advocate for our beliefs we must establish a priority list. This list should be rank ordered from most-desired to least-desired.

This list is dynamic. When one idea is fulfilled, the next one on the list moves up in priority. However, sometimes an item at the top of the list may find its way to the bottom without ever receiving the necessary resources. This is a reality. We live in a time of limited resources. We must learn to balance shortfalls where resources are the most constrained. However, the first step is to prepare your vision and then go after it.

Exercise practicality.

When advocating for your top priority, take a practical approach. Each time I am called upon to offer my opinion on a military matter, I mentally walk through a checklist of "do's and don'ts" that I have developed through previous experience and observation. First, do your homework. Understand what you are requesting, what resources you need -- such as time, money and manpower -- and the risks associated with your position.

Spend time researching your position thoroughly and reach out to functional experts for support as you organize your thoughts. I would submit it is also appropriate to know the positions contrary to your own. This means analyzing all sides of your argument. It is also imperative that you identify the end-state. In other words, what is the desired effect you are seeking when offering your professional opinion?

Keep your ego in check.

Inevitably, in the battle of persuasion your desired effect is not always achieved. In some cases, you must compromise for an alternative. In other cases, your opinion will be rejected entirely. Remember, you researched your position and know the facts, so now is not the time to let emotion enter the equation. Emotion brings negative energy to the debate and takes an objective discussion and makes it personal.

When it becomes personal, my experience tells me people stop listening. I think this is what a great American military leader, Gen. Colin Powell, meant when he adopted the following as one of his 10 personal rules: "Avoid having your ego so close to your position," General Powell writes, "that when your position falls, your ego goes with it." Passion for your position is good. Emotion tied to ego is bad.

You won't achieve everything you advocate for.

As professionals we have to recognize when our issues will not make the "list" or will be rejected. Sometimes this means knowing when to submit to a decision contrary to our position. Please understand I'm not talking about matters of principle. On matters of principle, it's important that we stand and fight for what we believe in. Ethical debates must be carefully examined as "right" versus "wrong" -- we should always stand firm and fight for the "right" and against the "wrong."

The larger point I am trying to make is an acceptance of "right" versus "right." When the final decision has been made by leadership, we each have a choice to make. As professionals we can accept the decision, salute smartly and carry on as our leaders direct. Or, we can lose our objectivity and resist the choice that was made. This moment is defining for us as professionals.

Leaders must cultivate a professional environment. If we center our conduct on the foundational core values each of our services has, we will establish the very environment the American public expects and service members must follow. We have been called to great responsibility in defense of our nation and must remain rooted in the principles of our oath as we move our mission forward.

Therefore, when the opportunity presents itself to offer your professional military opinion, I encourage you to be objective, do your homework, advocate for your vision and always be professional. If you do this, I guarantee that over the years you will end up achieving more than you ever thought possible.