On Feb 18, 2009, CMSgt Todd Small and I traveled Thule, Greenland to see and talk to our Airman stationed at Thule Air Base. Thule AB is 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle, and approximately 550 miles east of the North Magnetic Pole and is locked in by ice nine months out of the year.
Why did we go in the dead of winter? The 821st Airmen operated nine months out of the year in extreme cold, little to no sunlight from November to January, and during the winter, they experience storms that are a deadly combination of wind, snow, and sub-zero temperatures. In order to let them know we cared and to experience how our Airmen lived throughout their assignment we needed to experience the winter.
As a leader, you need to go where your people live and see how they operate on a day-to-day basis. By coming during the cold and dark winter, we showed, by our actions, that we cared about them enough to experience what they experience. Additionally, arriving in the wintertime increased the trust and credibility factor for our visit.
When we arrived at Thule AB, it was -35, the air was piercingly cold, and it penetrated right through your clothing. As we stepped off the plane, the first breathe burned nose and lungs. It was COLD! After a few hours of rest and a quick breakfast we headed out see the Airmen at their work centers.
At Thule the work centers are not clustered together they are spread out all over the icy landmass which required us to travel along frozen and iced over roads to see every Airmen. Spread out along the route, or safety reasons, are emergency storm shelters that provide a safe haven during a sudden winter storm.
Chief Small and I visited every work center at Thule, AB, and presented our coins to the Thule Top Performers. Each work center we visited we were met by upbeat and positive Airmen. This work center positivity was at each work center throughout the day. It was one of the highlights of our trip and I needed to find out the secret to their positive outlook on life.
Before we left Thule, AB, we had an opportunity to hold a Leadership Call to pass on information and answer any questions the Airmen had for us. During the Leadership Call, I finally asked what the secret ingredient was to why everyone was positive and optimistic throughout the day. A young Airman stood up and answered the question.
“It is by choice. We choose to be positive and optimistic while we are here. When we arrive and attend our “Welcome to Thule AB briefing”, we are briefed on Thule Survival skills. How to survive driving in a winter storms, how to prevent frostbite, and how to live in 24-hour darkness. Then we have a brief on resiliency and remaining positive during your assignment. It is all a matter of outlook and choice. I can choose to be miserable and hate the assignment or I can choose to look at the positive aspects of the assignment and get to know new people and have new opportunities. So I choose to be positive and optimistic.”
Driving it home
Your leadership attitude is your choice. Attitude is your state of mind toward others or situations. It is an outward expression of how you are feeling or reacting inside Attitude influences the team and organizational culture and reflects in their productivity, innovation, and collaboration. The amazing thing about a leadership attitude is that you have the ability to control and manage your attitude.
Emotions, moods, and leadership attitude are key reasons why I think emotional intelligence is an important leadership principle. Each leader is susceptible to his or her emotional state and moods at work. Understanding how to manage the emotions and moods can make you a better leader.
According to Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence, self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management are vital assets for a leader. An emotionally intelligent leader is aware of how their attitude affects others.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand that it is not what happens to you that determine your attitude, but how you decide to respond. To have a great attitude in leadership, you must be constantly aware of the things that are influencing you and then you need to make a choice on how to react Attitude is your choice.
Emotional intelligence is a key part of your attitude. Emotional intelligence helps you keep your mind focused by keeping your emotional state in check. Stress, emotions, and moods are key reasons why emotional intelligence is part of a disciplined mind. You are susceptible to your emotional state and moods in life. Understanding how to manage your emotions and moods can make you a better person.
One of your first choices as a leader is to establish and maintain a positive attitude. A positive attitude is a powerful leadership mindset and leadership tool. The true power of a positive attitude is more than positive thinking it is a way of life. It is a continuous state of mind and leadership focus.
It is a mindset that no matter what leadership challenges you face, the good, and the bad, you keep your life and in effect, your leadership attitude, focused on the positive aspects of life and a positive belief in yourself and your leadership abilities. You need to believe that life is about positive opportunities and possibilities and be optimistic about who and what you can become.