This Memorial Day, I'm grateful. At 3 pm today, when the National Remembrance Act calls on us to pause, I'll be with my family by the barbecue, talking about friends in service today and how much we want them safe. We'll bring up family lost in World War II, like Uncle Jack, who died in his plane-and the far too many people who give their lives so we can enjoy beautiful days like today.

I have another reason for gratitude to the Air Force in particular today. It taught me three essentials of what it takes to create a high performance culture.

1. Respect

When I signed up as a cadet in the Air Force ROTC, it was because I was afraid. I was going to Baylor University on academic scholarship. I knew if my GPA wavered below 3.8, I'd lose it. ROTC was my back up plan.

US Air Force Detachment 810 at Baylor University is one of the first in the country, created in 1948. They're regularly recognized among the top in the region and were number one in the country in 2008.

Honor is their way of life. The detachment commander heard my less than glorious reason for joining his top group and reacted like this: "We're glad you chose the Air Force. We'll give you more reasons to keep choosing the Air Force as you go through the program."

He showed me in two seconds how to respect the various motives of new team members.

2. Routine

Immediately, I was immersed in routine. Homework evenings in the Detachment. Wednesdays, wear the uniform. Tuesdays and Thursdays, physical training or PT. Saturdays, group run. Weekly, kitchen duty--or KP. Also important: weekly lessons on situational leadership, physics and team building.

Although I didn't recognize it at the time, routine fed my body, my brain and my discipline. It helped me learn to organize my own time better and learn to say no. I believe in routine and rhythm today in leading teams to perform. You are what you repeatedly do.

The Air Force demanded punctuality, physical performance, academic performance, teamwork and leadership not just in words, but in my daily habits. Ask yourself, what does the routine ask of your team at your company today?

3. Up or out

ROTC is a leadership laboratory. My group was led by a flight commander, another student a couple years ahead. On paper, his role was to coach us into becoming outstanding officer material. In reality, the Air Force's approach to leadership was both more practical and more poetic. My flight commander wanted us to become the best possible people we could be.

When my natural tendencies manifested themselves in communication, writing and language, my flight commander coached me on what my future career in the Air Force would look like. At that time, many roles in the Air Force weren't open to women. I was also the only female cadet in my Flight. My future career looked like working in administration, maybe in recruiting, training or publications. I didn't want a future that boring. He encouraged me to take my leadership where it would be better valued. Just when I would have followed my flight commander anywhere, just when I began to appreciate the leadership I had in ROTC, the right choice was to walk away.

The day I left my Flight, we shed a few tears--but I got a powerful lesson for the rest of my life. You can be the right person but have no right place in an organization. As a leader, don't avoid the tough conversations. Show up for them even more promptly, so your people can become the best they can be.

Published on: May 25, 2015
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