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What's in Your Toolbox? (Part 2)

(Photo: Left - Maj. Gen. Richard "Beef" Haddad, Middle - Gen. Kareem Abood)

(Continuation from Tuesday...)

Leadership Tool #1:

Know Your People

Gen. Padilla knew I was of Lebanese heritage, spoke barely conversational Arabic, and had spent my entire military career flying conventional and special operations C-130’s. Think that’s why he selected me? It’s a great example of knowing your people, looking around, and finding the right person for a highly specialized task. How do you get to know your people? You walk around building relationships with them and finding out who they are.

Leadership Tool #2:

Build Those Vital Relationships Early and Often

Sure enough, the Iraqi air force personnel welcomed me with open arms and called me “Cousin.” I lived with them, laughed with them, ate with them, and nurtured their enthusiasm for building a new Iraq. Our biggest early obstacle was the newness of the central government, now dominated by Shia instead of the Sunnis who held power under Saddam. The new government was struggling with bigger issues, and my Iraqi commanders, Brig. Gen. Abood and Colonel Mohammad, were veteran Shia officers but new to upper level leadership.

We sat down together and looked at what we had: the shell of a “house” with little else, but walls and floors. Within two weeks, three C-130’s and 260 operational and support personnel would arrive. Where to find the resources to make this work? The Iraqi officers and I went to our tool bags and pulled out the relationships we needed to call on and develop to make things happen.

Leadership Tool #3:

Look Anywhere and Everywhere Within and Outside Your Organization to Find the People and Resources You Need. Encourage Your Supervisors Top to Bottom to Do the Same.

In the business world, a cutthroat competitive atmosphere can breed territoriality, protectiveness, and a reluctance to venture outside your own department for fear of criticism or failure. While you want your personnel to strive for advancement, an effective leader tamps down the individual “it’s all about me” attitude by emphasizing that your ideal future executive is a team builder and a teammate.

We went to the State Department and before we knew it, truckloads of office furniture and equipment arrived, enough to staff every office on NAMAD. We borrowed the trucks from the active duty Air Force. When we unloaded the office furniture, things got very quiet – almost everything had Sadaam’s insignia on it – the Iraqi officers were more than a little impressed the Americans were bringing them office furniture from Sadaam’s VIP Air Terminal.

We contacted several civilian contractors working in Baghdad, and they provided much of the electrical wiring and conduit linking the new base to the electrical grid. We scoured the DRMO (military surplus) and scored computer equipment that, while outmoded for the US military, allowed our airmen and their Iraqi counterparts to build a perfectly serviceable IT network for the new base to provide communication, training, aerospace ground equipment, supply and logistics systems.

Early on, long delays to access this highly secure area were a nagging problem for our Iraqi personnel. We went to the Army, shook hands and made friends, and worked out a stand-alone system for identifying our NAMAD personnel and expediting their access to the base.

Throughout this process, Brig. Gen. Abood and Col. Mohammad continually displayed their leadership skills. They identified their personnel best suited to every technical and administrative function. They emphasized the importance of working with our airmen to learn the myriad new technical skills involved in running the base and supporting the aircraft. They stoked enthusiasm in their young Iraqi airmen for this massive, daunting project. They sat with me at tea and dinner and stoked MY enthusiasm by expressing their gratitude for my help and their appreciation for every step accomplished along the way.

Leadership Tool #4:

Yes, Man’s Flight Through Life is Powered by Knowledge, But If You Don’t Have the Knowledge Yourself, Find It, Hire It, and Nurture It!

I didn’t know anything about how to acquire, set up, and operate a complete air base support facility, but we did it. Operative word: We! We found the people who had the knowledge and the resources, developed relationships with them, and learned other important lessons I’ve seen in ALL aspects of organizational life. People WANT to help. People WANT to perform. People WANT to show you their capabilities. People WANT to do what they do best, whether it’s putting together a bunch of random computers to create an integrated basewide IT network, or whether it’s young Iraqi airmen learning how to maintain a C-130 in safe and ready-for-takeoff condition.

Excellent leaders at every level “KNOW” this, and use it to tackle new, challenging, previously unknown tasks that will move their business up to a new level. Everything we’ve talked about can be applied with equal success to any part of your business organization that is underperforming.

Relationships matter. Knowledge matters. Within six months, New Al Muthana Air Base stood up ready to maintain, support, and fly the new Iraqi Air Force’s C-130’s. I’d like to say it all had a happy ending, but we know Iraq continues to be an extraordinarily chaotic country torn by sectarian and tribal strife. Both Brig. Gen. Abood and Colonel Mohammad were later assassinated by Sunni militia trying to undermine the new military leadership. I miss my friends and think of them so often. It’s All About Relationships.



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