Don't be your own worst enemy; When in doubt, do the right thing

  • Published
  • By Mickey Brown
  • 812th Test Support Squadron Director
I have two quotes on my desk at work, both of them remind me of my responsibilities to the individuals I supervise, the leaders I work for, the mission that we support and especially the responsibility I have to my family. One quote reminds me that we can be our own worst enemy; the other provides advice on how to avoid becoming our own worst enemy.

The first is from the comic strip "Pogo" written and drawn by Walt Kelly in the 50's. The comic strip was a political and social satire that took place in the Okefenokee Swamp of the southeastern United States. The strip had a large cast of characters and took aim at several famous people by making caricatures of them, one of the most popular being Simple J. Malarkey who closely resembled Senator Joseph McCarthy who led the anti-communist hunt in the United States during the mid-50's.

The lead character in the comic strip was a possum named Pogo. Pogo is a lot like most of us, personable, humble and very friendly and philosopher at heart. As a philosopher, Pogo's most famous quote was "We have met the enemy and he is us." The quote was first used on a poster that Walt Kelly made for the first Earth Day. The poster shows Pogo trying to clean up a forest covered with trash. Trash that mankind had placed there, hence "...the enemy and he is us."

Right now you are probably asking yourself where I'm going with this. To begin let's take some liberty and rewrite Pogo's statement as "I have met the enemy and it is me." Are you your own worst enemy?

Throughout my 40-plus years with the Air Force I've seen numerous instances where we are our own worst enemy. This includes both individuals and organizations.

For example take the individuals who bypass their leadership because they disapprove of the direction their leader is taking the organization, or their leader did not take their advice to heart, and so they go directly to the top. Typically what happens here is that the individual's leader, who more than likely could have resolved the issue at a lower level, is blindsided. Those individuals are their own worst enemy because they have placed their own leadership in the precarious position of having to respond to the management without having full knowledge or understanding of the situation. Ouch! Also the individuals who bypassed their leader probably do not understand why their leader has lost confidence in them.

Now don't take this wrong, workers should and do have the right to take their concerns or complaints to an authority above their leadership if they feel that their leadership can't or won't resolve them. They just need to give their supervisor or leader the courtesy of knowing they are going to do that.

Next consider the organization that knows that a no-notice inspection is on the horizon, yet they spend little or no time reviewing their checklists in preparation for the inspection. Typically, when they fail the inspection they will give the same well rehearsed response, "We were too busy supporting the mission" to accomplish the requirements of the checklist.

They don't realize that running the checklist and ensuring that they meet the established standards is part of their mission. That organization is its own worst enemy.

The other quote that I have on my desk, "When in doubt, do the right thing," was given to me by Col. Jon Link, U.S. Air Force, retired. To me this is very powerful advice. The question here is how do you know what the right thing is? The answer is the right thing is situation dependent.

If you think about it most everybody knows what the right thing is. It's obeying laws and regulations, it's adjusting and prioritizing your work to complete an inspection checklist, it's thinking about the consequences and impact on those around you when you bypass your leaders and go directly to the top, it's keeping the commitments that you have made to your family and friends. Doing the right thing is taking care of your employees through awards and recognition, while making sure that you accomplish the mission to the best of your ability. Doing the right thing is taking the time to explore many possible outcomes from a decision and then choosing the one that best gives the results you are looking for.

Is the right thing always easy to do? No. A few years back I had to remove an employee that had great potential, but he had made some bad judgments and was incapable of accomplishing the job we needed him to do. I worked very closely with his supervisor to get the employee back on the right track but nothing we did seemed to help. After several tries I realized that the right thing to do for the employee and the organization was to remove the employee.

Painful? Yes. Stressful? Yes. The right thing? Definitely!

If you do the right thing, you may not be happy at the time and it may be painful. In the end you will be able to feel good about yourself because you've done the best you can.

The bottom line is, don't be your own worst enemy; consider the consequences of your actions, both good and bad, and above all "When in doubt, do the right thing."