My four rules for success in all that we do…

  • Published
  • By Col. Chris Nowland
  • 71st Flying Training Wing commander
Lou Holtz, the legendary football coach at University of Notre Dame, once said, "Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you respond to it."

Whether you're dealing with life, deployment or the day-to-day challenges of training the world's finest aviators, how you respond to what happens depends on the habits you have developed.

Those habits develop based on the rules you live by. I have four that work for me and with consistent application, they will work for you too.

Rule 1: Survive--use operational risk management. You can't win if you're not present to play. Sometimes surviving is as simple as buckling your seatbelt, getting enough rest before driving across country or using the right safety equipment when working under your car.

Other times it means wearing your body armor, looking for strange objects on the roadside and keeping your head down.

No matter the threat level, surviving means taking into account all things that can go wrong and doing something to minimize the danger.

Another important key to survival is balance. That means strengthening yourself physically, mentally and spiritually. We are an expeditionary Air Force, but it doesn't matter whether you are military or civilian; physical activity is good for you. It helps relieve stress.

For your mind, you need to read something outside of your primary job each week. This will help "sharpen your saw." You need to tend to your spiritual side as well. It doesn't matter whether you are Islamic, Buddhist, Christian, non-denominational -- we are all spiritual.

Rule 2: Mutual support in all things--be a good wingman. Every pilot knows the power of a good wingman. The military definition refers to the pattern fighter jets fly. There is always a lead aircraft and another which flies off the right wing of the lead.

This second pilot is called the wingman because he primarily protects the lead by "watching his back." Erich Hartmann, a German Lufftwaffe pilot who shot down 352 aircraft during World War II, claimed that of all his accomplishments, he was proudest of the fact he never lost a wingman.

He was proudest of never losing a wingman. Clearly he felt the support he gave his wingman was every bit as important as the support his wingman gave him. Mutual support led to a powerful accomplishment in aerial combat during WWII. It can lead to powerful things today as well.

We constantly hammer the idea of wingmen preventing alcohol-related incidents. Be the designated driver, don't let friends drive drunk and intervene when you hear that famous battle cry, "Hey guys, watch this!"

But wingmen have major impacts in more places than just aerial combat or the alcohol arena. Taking time to talk with a co-worker who is down in the dumps can be that little nudge that steers them to a positive solution to their problems.

Being a watchful "domestic wingman" in the home will keep the family tie strong. The stronger the support at home, the more a family can accomplish in all phases of life.

Rule 3: Communication is the key. The lines of communication should flow in all directions. Lines of effective communication must flow in all directions, constantly. Think about building a network.

According to Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, the problem with communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished. Our job as effective leaders, and followers, is to remove that illusion and make sure it has been accomplished.

Communicating today's mission to your people and how to get it done is important. Listening is equally important. Your people should be communicating back their understanding, and possible improvements in effectiveness and efficiency.

As with all four of my rules, this one applies in the home as well. Understanding the needs and desires of your spouse and children is only possible with effective communication. Hearing their words, and understanding them, is only possible with enthusiastic listening.

Rule 4: Be an expert at what you do. You can tell a lot about a carpenter by how sharp he keeps his saw. Maintaining your skills and improving them every chance you get makes you a valuable part of Team Vance.

It feels good when folks come to you because you always have the answers - the correct answers. It saves the team time when it can trust you. But maintaining your skills and knowledge takes an investment of time and effort. The carpenter maintains his tools by taking time to sharpen them. Take time to sharpen yours.

And of course, it applies at home. Constantly strive to be a good partner and a good parent. Sharpen your home tools through marriage seminars, parenting classes and by spending quality time with those closest to you. Be an expert.

I believe these four rules, if employed consistently in all that you do, they almost guarantee success in any venture you chose. It took me a while to learn their value. I give them freely to you. Be an essential part of Team Vance and all of its future successes.