Across the service, we represent a broad range of diverse missions, family situations, ethnicities, faiths, races and educational backgrounds. Yet, together, this rich tapestry forms the world’s finest Air Force, drawn from the best talent that America has to offer.
—Michael B. Donley, Secretary of the Air Force
I recently learned a valuable lesson in leadership. My team and I were working on an important office project when I realized I needed to augment the group with another member. As I sifted through the candidates, my natural tendencies had me leaning toward (and selecting) an officer who had a great performance record and who volunteered for every project in sight. There was another great candidate, however. She too had a great performance record, but she was not a particularly expressive or outgoing person. It wasn’t until later as I reflected upon my decision I realized that I missed an opportunity that day in my responsibilities as a leader. The officer I didn’t choose would probably have performed just as well as the officer I did select. In fact, I thought to myself, she probably has similar goals, like the officer I selected, to progress and ultimately become a leader in The Judge Advocate General’s Corps. Perhaps all she needed was someone to draw her out of her shell, take a chance on her, and give her the opportunity to succeed.
Why is the scenario I described such a big deal? It’s a big deal because it’s about developing leaders. It’s about investing in people from varying backgrounds, experiences, and cultures and mentoring them for opportunities. It’s about honing our interpersonal skills both as Air Force Airmen and as leaders to engender an inclusive environment that will attract and retain the best and brightest individuals to become tomorrow’s leaders. It’s about tapping into the strengths of diversity that all of us possess; it’s about inclusion.
Many people think of diversity only in terms of equal opportunity. But equal opportunity does not begin to scratch the surface of what true diversity is. The Air Force defines diversity as “a composite of individual characteristics, experiences, and abilities consistent with the Air Force Core Values and the Air Force Mission. . . . It includes, but is not limited to, personal life experiences, geographic background, socioeconomic background, cultural knowledge, educational background, work background, language abilities, physical abilities, philosophical/spiritual perspectives, age, race, ethnicity and gender.”1
In October 2010, the Air Force published its Diversity Strategic Roadmap:
Diversity is a military necessity and is every Air Force leader’s responsibility. Air Force decision-making and operational capabilities are enhanced by diversity among its Airmen, uniformed and civilian, helping make the Air Force more agile, innovative and effective. It opens the door to creative solutions to complex problems and provides our Air Force a competitive edge in air, space and cyberspace. Diversity includes and involves all of us. It is one of the strengths of the United States of America and gives the United States Air Force a decisive advantage as we engage globally.2
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009 established the Military Leadership Diversity Commission to conduct a comprehensive assessment of diversity practices and policies within the Department of Defense. After hosting numerous public hearings across the country, hearing testimony from key military leaders and subject matter experts, and interviewing a diverse group of servicemembers, the Commission drafted 20 recommendations for diversity leadership for the twenty-first century. Among them were recommendations for making respect for diversity a core value and for leadership training at all levels.3
In its Executive Summary to the President of the United States and Members of Congress, the Commission noted, “the diversity of our servicemembers is the unique strength of our military. Current and future challenges can be better met by broadening our understanding of diversity and by effectively leading our uniformed men and women in ways that fully leverage their differences.”4
The Judge Advocate General has directed that the Corps will embrace a commitment to diversity for the twenty-first century. This year, we are partnering with key members of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession to reach out and provide leadership training to our JAG Corps members. The training will focus on interpersonal and communication skills for fostering an environment of inclusion. As members of the world’s finest Air Force, we owe it to ourselves to practice meaningful mentorship and view leadership through an “inclusive lens.” By meaningful mentorship, we will focus on three “Is” of diversity: Inclusion, Investment, and Intervention.5 Inclusion means integrating every member into the culture of a legal office. Investment entails giving all individuals opportunities to succeed and cultivating those who are not by nature enthusiastic or expressive. With intervention, meaningful mentorship includes not only helping individuals through obstacles by interceding on their behalf, but also giving honest feedback. Of course, meaningful mentorship goes both ways. Our training will also provide tools and techniques for individuals on how to seek mentorship opportunities and accept honest feedback.
Perhaps some of you are familiar with the scenario I described in my introduction. Maybe you can identify with the officer in her shell, who, for whatever reason, won’t volunteer or get involved in her base community. Or perhaps you’ve had an experience similar to mine. The reality is that we can probably identify instances in our lives in which we either needed a leader to take a chance on us or we just simply needed to engage others to take a chance on themselves.
So whatever happened to the officer I didn’t select for that important office project? Well, I ultimately selected both. The lesson I learned that day taught me that diversity, and more importantly inclusion, is vital to the success of our corps and to finding creative solutions to the increasingly complex issues we face. It’s important because it is about developing leaders. All of us come from different backgrounds, but as the Air Force Judge Advocate General recently noted, we come together to serve a greater purpose than ourselves.6 As we weave together the values, cultures, characteristics, and ethnic backgrounds that make each of us unique, and cultivate an environment of inclusion, investment, and intervention along the way, the end result is a valuable form of teaming of all of our talent, a tapestry for success, and the development of the leaders to meet tomorrow’s challenges.
1. AFPD 36-70, Diversity, Oct. 13, 2010, at 2.
2. Air Force Diversity Operations, United States Air Force Diversity Strategic Roadmap: A Journey to Excellence, AF/A1DV, Oct. 19, 2010, available at www.af.mil/diversity.asp.
3. Military Leadership Diversity Commission, Final Report, Mar. 15, 2011, available at http://mldc.whs.mil.
5. Joseph K. West, president and CEO of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association.
6. TJAGC Online News Service, Vol. 9, No. 18, May 4, 2011.