Lorenz on Leadership -- We Are All Accountable

  • Published
  • By Gen. Stephen R. Lorenz
  • Commander, Air Education and Training Command
Over the past few months, we've heard a lot about accountability in our Air Force. If you're a little unsure as to what people mean when they discuss "accountability," you're not alone. 

Over the years, the word "accountability" has been associated with high-profile failures, including shooting down our own helicopters in Iraq, bombing friendly troops in Afghanistan, and failing to keep positive control over nuclear components. Closely related to this, "accountability" has also been associated with specific sanctions, including loss of rank, forced retirements, and documenting poor performance on fitness reports. 

But focusing only on specific actions and sanctions misses the point. Accountability goes much deeper than that. Accountability is a matter of trust. Without accountability, we risk losing the trust of our fellow Airmen, our sister services, and the American people. 

To be accountable is to be subject to the consequences of our choices. Whether we choose to do the right thing -- to act with integrity, service, and excellence -- or not, we have to be prepared to accept the consequences. 

Even if others do not hold us accountable, we are all accountable -- always. If we ever forget that as individual Airmen, we're headed down a very dangerous path. If we ever forget it as a service, we're headed toward extinction. 

We are accountable for the choices we make in our personal lives. The vast majority of choices which get people in trouble involve alcohol, sex, drugs, and/or money. Each year, some of us make wrong choices in these areas, and we are held accountable. Sometimes, careers are ruined as a result. More importantly, a bad choice hurts the people we love, especially our families, friends, and our fellow Airmen. If you have problems in these areas, go to someone you can trust and get help. If you know an Airmen who is headed down a wrong path, help them before they make a bad choice. 

We are also accountable for the choices we make as military professionals. We must adhere to the standards we learned when we first received our training. When an Airman cuts corners by failing to follow tech order guidance or violating a flying directive, we must hold them accountable. When you see people doing the wrong thing, correct them. We must police each other, because if we don't, small lapses will lead to bigger ones, and the entire Air Force family will eventually suffer. 

Many of us in Air Education and Training Command are instructors. We teach and enforce the standards. It is also essential that we live by the standards. We must set the right example, otherwise we lose our credibility. We all remember teachers whose attitude was, "do as I say, not as I do." We cannot be like that. As we shape the future of our Air Force, we must hold ourselves to the highest standards of personal and professional conduct. 

When you assume responsibility for others as a supervisor or commander, it is important to realize that you've taken a big leap in accountability. Simply put, you are accountable for the choices your people make. That is why you must lead by example. Your people need to see that you set high standards and live according to those standards. You must also enforce standards within your unit. You should correct deficiencies at the lowest level before they grow into something bigger. Remember this: units with high standards have high morale. It's been that way throughout military history. 

If we fail to hold ourselves accountable, we risk losing the trust that we have worked so hard to gain. Airmen will not trust a leader who does not consider themselves accountable for their actions. Just as importantly, the American people will not trust us with their sons and daughters -- or their most destructive weapons -- if we do not hold ourselves accountable. When things go wrong, our civilian authorities, our sister services, and the American people need to see that we take action to correct the problem and move forward, but assigning accountability is also critical for maintaining trust. 

We do not want to return to a situation where the public doesn't trust us. I entered the Air Force during a time when public trust in the military was very low, and it was difficult on all of us. 

In the years after Vietnam, we built trust by setting high standards and holding ourselves accountable for meeting those standards. It was the right thing to do, and it worked. Now, we must maintain these high standards. As we make personal and professional choices, we must remember that we are all accountable -- always.