Where do you learn about leadership?

  • Published
  • By Capt. Taylor Francis
  • 334th Fighter Squadron
Seymour Johnson Air Force Base is probably not considered a prized assignment by many Airmen. However, being stationed here offers us unique opportunities, which are simply not available at any other installation in the Air Force. Members of the 334th Fighter Squadron had the good fortune to take advantage of one of these distinct endeavors during a recent Comprehensive Airman Fitness day.

The proximity of our base to Research Triangle Park, N.C., and surrounding universities such as North Carolina State, Duke, East Carolina and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, give 4th Fighter Wing personnel access to a remarkable number of civilian business, academic and athletic leaders, many of whom have served in the military. These individuals have unique insights on leadership, performance and success, which we can all apply while wearing our Air Force uniform and when we transition to civilian life.

Mike Krzyzewski, Duke men's basketball head coach, is one of these esteemed leaders. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1969 and served as an Army officer before resigning his commission as a captain and venturing into the world of coaching. As a head basketball coach, he has won four National Collegiate Athletic Association national championships, an Olympic gold medal as the coach of the U.S. Men's National Team and has written several books about leadership techniques and philosophies.

On Sept. 30, 2013, Krzyzewski opened his doors at Duke to members of the 334th FS to attend a closed-practice session. The Airmen were initially taken to famed Cameron Indoor Stadium to sit mid-court as the team began its two-hour practice session.

Many of the principles and tenets taught in the Air Force were on display on the court. Accountability, communication and mutual respect were all exhibited repeatedly. Players and coaches were held to high standards of performance, but criticism was never demeaning and teammates congratulated each other once a coaching point was understood and executed correctly. The structure and discipline required to act as efficiently as possible in a time-constrained environment were clearly visible. Everyone from Krzyzewski to the training staff and student managers knew their job and performed flawlessly and quickly when called upon to execute maximum training with limited resources. This concept is something in which today's Airmen can certainly relate.

After practice, Krzyzewski spoke with us for more than 30 minutes and offered leadership techniques and beliefs. He told us fascinating stories from his time in the military and as a basketball coach. The coach also presented the five pillars that form the team philosophy which drove the Duke Basketball program to success.

The five pillars are:

- Communication

- Trust

- Collective responsibility

- Caring

- Pride
Like the fingers on a hand, each pillar isn't capable of great things by itself, but when all five combine they form a fist which can achieve greater results. The fist has become a symbol of Duke Basketball. Each member must be part of the team and apply the five principles in unity to reach the lofty heights the program is expected to achieve each year.

The coach specifically mentioned the necessity of honest, constructive and respectful communication. No one can get better, nor can a unit reach its goals if we're not demanding the standards to which we should be held. When someone is doing well, congratulate and celebrate with them. When someone is falling short, tell them, then take the next step to help the person rise back to the expected standard.

In terms of pride, Krzyzewski emphasized that people must feel like they belong to something greater than themselves, and must own their position and role within a team or organization. He discussed how his coaching staff attempted to build that pride at Duke, but also pointed out the unique position we have as Airmen. The oath we took to support and defend our Constitution, and the fact that we serve in an all-volunteer Air Force, inherently makes us an important part of something much bigger than ourselves - the whole of which is greater than the sum of its parts. In our service to our country, he told us not to lose sight of our role in making our military and country so great.

As the final event of the evening, the Airmen were treated to a private tour of the Duke Basketball Hall of Fame and trophy room as well as the practice facility and weight room. Multiple national championship trophies and images of Duke Basketball served as material evidence of the success achieved through the application of Krzyzewski's leadership principles.

Since attending the practice session, squadron members have had multiple discussions about what they saw and heard and how it can be applied in our daily lives to make ourselves better officers and Airmen. Being stationed here provides a plethora of amazing professional development opportunities. If we fail to take advantage of these opportunities, we've neglected to make ourselves the best Airmen we can be.

The 4th FW has a rich history of being "Fourth but First." We can continue that history by looking for and optimizing the options surrounding us while we are stationed here. In that search for professional development, you never know, you might even get to be part of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.