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NEWS | June 21, 2013

‘Core Values Spotlight’: Excellence in all we do

By Master Sgt. Brian Potvin Air Combat Command

Editor's Note: This is the final article in a series covering the Air Force core values.

When the subject comes up, I always tell Airmen that the last of our three core values does not mean the Air Force expects perfection. It expects us all to strive for continuous improvement in everything we do in our lives.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said this about excellence: "If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.'"

While we should strive for our best, perfection is hard to come by. As human beings we are inherently fallible. If we expect perfection from our people, then we will be consistently disappointed. I have fallen short of this core value numerous times in my career.

I failed to meet the mark of "excellence" from time to time as a young Airman, as a noncommissioned officer and even while I served as a first sergeant. I am still wearing our uniform today because I stood up, dusted myself off and told my superiors, "I take responsibility for what I did wrong, and it will never happen again." I had leadership that took me at my word and gave me another chance.

In order to seriously strive towards excellence in all we do, we need to lean upon some of the qualities in our first two core values. One of the attributes of "Integrity First" is justice. In adhering to this attribute, we must treat everyone fairly, regardless of the differences we have as human beings. How can we expect everyone to be excellent if we don't show them respect as a person? Self-discipline is an attribute of "Service Before Self" that also applies to excellence. We have to be disciplined enough to learn our jobs and seek out ways that we can improve the things we produce.

Something leaders should consider is making sure people know how their jobs contribute to the mission of their squadrons, wings and ultimately, the Air Force. The importance of personnel working in the fitness center or the dining facility is as important to the overall mission as the pilot who climbs into his B-1, or the crew chief who makes sure an F-22 is ready to fly. If our Airmen don't have an understanding of how their job fits into the bigger picture of Air Force mission accomplishment, this could lead to a lack of desire to perform all tasks to an excellent level.

The four aspects of excellence are personal, organizational, resource and operational. All play a significant role in achieving excellence in all we do.

Personal excellence
This is all about being excellent in all areas of your life, not just your job. Think about pursuing off-duty education or trying to score an "excellent" on your next physical fitness test.

Organizational excellence
The success of our organizations is a team effort. We must always strive to foster a team environment in which everyone is encouraged to work together.

Resource excellence
Our most precious resource is our people. Effective leaders must do what is necessary in order to ensure our Airmen are ready to accomplish their mission to the best of their ability. This means securing training when appropriate and scheduling PT sessions to help your people do their best on fitness assessments. Keep in mind that the most effective leaders lead from the front, so if you schedule PT sessions for your people, you should be there too. It also means ensuring that you've been trained on your own tasks as well.

Operational excellence
Operational excellence means that we all understand exactly what the Air Force does, and how the Air Force plays a part in carrying out the orders of our commander in chief. Ask yourself, do you know what the Air Force's core competencies are? Have you ever looked at the Air Force doctrine documents? Chances are, if you have not, neither have your Airmen. We must take the time to learn about these things, and to instruct our Airmen to do the same.

It was the honor of my career to have worked for and traveled with our 18th Chief of Staff, Gen. T. Michael Moseley. While speaking at a graduation banquet for the U.S. Air Force Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., he told the newly-minted weapons officers something that has stayed in my mind: "Never walk by a problem. Stop, fix it and move on." If we all take Gen. Moseley's advice, our Air Force will continue to be a better place today than it was yesterday.