Lorenz on Leadership -- Look into their eyes

  • Published
  • By Gen. Stephen R. Lorenz
  • Commander, Air Education and Training Command
If we want the Air Force to be a family, we must do what a family does: care for one another.

At a recent conference for new squadron commanders, a commander's spouse asked me a great question. "What is the one thing we can do to make the most difference for our people?"

My answer was simple. It's not a program or an event. You have to care for them. You will make mistakes as a leader, and sometimes you will encounter situations where there are no good answers, but if your people know you care for them, they will overlook and forgive your faults. If you are sincere, they will respond by giving you their all.

So how do you show those around you that you care about them? Here's a simple way. Ask them how they are doing, and while you are listening, watch their eyes. Why? Effective leaders understand that the eyes are the window into the soul.

Many of us don't want to admit when we're having problems. We want to be strong, or we don't think our problems are big enough to talk about. When asked how we are doing, most of us will respond with the typical, "I'm fine."

In the Air Force, we are fortunate. The vast majority of our folks are inherently honest. While we may say we're "fine," because that is the culturally acceptable thing to do, our eyes will not lie. If someone isn't fine, you will see it.

And that's when you take the time to ask again, maybe in a slightly different way. You may have to ask several times. Take the time to do this. It's important.

For example, in the morning you may pass Airman Jones in the hallway and ask him how he is doing. Although he says "fine," he doesn't really look at you.

This is your chance to make a difference. Don't miss it.

"How is your family doing?" you ask. Airman Jones quickly answers with "They're OK," but he still doesn't look at you. Don't quit. Stop and look him in the eye. "You look like something's on your mind, are you sure you're ok?" Try to get him to talk, always looking at his eyes for important clues.

The fact is that we're not always OK. We all have issues in our lives such as relationships that turn sour, kids who aren't behavingĀ in school, financial problems, or sick parents. These things weigh on our minds, and they can affect our performance. They can even lead us to contemplate irrational thoughts, lash out, leave those we love, or take our own lives. Unfortunately, we've had several people in the Air Force who have taken that road recently.

We are all leaders because we influence those around us. We can help make our Air Force a stronger family by showing each other that we care. Chances are that all of the people you work with have something in their lives which troubles them. Take the time to ask them how they are doing -- watch their eyes when they answer.