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Be the example by setting the standard

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- What example are you knowingly or unknowingly setting?

All of us are in the business of mentoring, leading, or setting the example in some form or fashion. What we may not always realize is when we're doing it. The best answer to this question is, at all times.

To emphasize my point, allow me to share a story with you. I cross-trained back in 1994, and upon arriving at my next unit as a technical sergeant, I met my new non-commissioned officer in charge at the end of what should be a normal duty day. My initial impression was not the best, as his uniform was dirty, boots severely scuffed and the rest of the personnel in the office pretty much matched his appearance. Believe me, I'm very happy now that I didn't form my opinion of the shop based on that meeting.

The next day, the NCOIC passed along a recall message to me around 4 a.m. instructing me to report for duty. Wanting to demonstrate the proper way to wear the uniform, I put on a fresh-pressed set of BDUs and a highly polished pair of boots you could brush your teeth in. To my surprise, as I entered the shop, everyone's uniform including the NCOICs matched mine. They all exclaimed, "Welcome to Holloman, and day two of our Phase 1 exercise."

After 17 hours of laborious work, we all matched the appearance of the motley crew I met the previous day. Before departing for home, our NCOIC praised us for the day's work and instructed us not to stop anywhere in our current appearance, and make sure we set the example once again the next morning. Although very relieved with the high standards in my new shop, it was challenging, at times, to meet them. However, I knew everyone else, including my new boss would expect and accept no less.

What does this have to do with my original question? It's as simple as this: You never know who is watching, or when. My NCOIC definitely set the bar high, working alongside us and enforcing tough standards but he also set a positive example, and made us strive to reach for it. We never thought he was riding us or setting unobtainable goals; just the opposite -- he always had our utmost respect.

In the work environment above, it is easy to define and enforce standards and I hope we all do it. However, the challenge unfolds differently in areas not so well-defined. For example, how many of us walk by trash or paper on the floor in our work areas, or around the base, or fail to correct standards -- i.e. hands in pockets, not wearing uniform correctly, etc. -- on those who may not directly work for us or are senior in grade?

I mentioned in my opening paragraph about how we set the example at all times. Be aware you're always under the "acceptable-behavior microscope" and when you choose not to correct things in your control, you may unknowingly set or enforce a negative standard just as easily as the one you knowingly and rightly set.

As you set out on your daily adventures, mentor at every opportunity, demonstrate leadership always, and know the example you're setting is the right one.