Commander's Forum - "I sent an e-mail"

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Leon C. Yonce
  • 95th Security Forces Squadron commander
I consider myself to be a fairly thoughtful person and a master of efficiency and multi-tasking. I would also have to admit I am a pretty darn good communicator.

Every day, I almost singlehandedly defeat a virtual army of taskers and suspenses sent from a myriad of higher headquarters and Defense Department agencies. I am the reigning champ of on-time responses.

I understand my operations officer is so impressed he secretly mounted my official photo in his office. I think my smiling face keeps him motivated on his toughest days.

I hate to admit it, but I do make mistakes on rare occasions. Unfortunately, I have failed to properly convey my message or task to someone else. To make matters worse, I caught myself uttering the feeble excuse "I sent an e-mail," right after I realized the task went undone because of my lack of oversight.

Here is a hypothetical example of how this phrase makes my stomach somersault. Let's say you are filling in for your supervisor during her recent TDY. You know your commander periodically tasks supervisors with specific guidance and firm suspense dates.

An example would be writing an informative article for the base paper describing your flight‟s significant contributions to the mission. This is your duty, and you patiently wait for your eventual turn to impress the base community with your wit and insight.

You aggressively monitor your inbox and listen attentively at staff meetings for the commander to give you your task and due date. You are a cobra ready to strike with literary venom, able to kill apathy and ignorance with a single drop.

Here is the problem. After weeks of staff meetings and about a trillion e-mails and texts, your commander finally tasks you with the due date the day before it is due. Your heart sinks and your legs begin to wobble uncontrollably.

People like surprises (some more than others), but I find it hard to believe anyone would jump up at this point and ask for a celebratory chest bump from their staff meeting neighbor.

To make matters worse, as the entire room looks your way a colleague says something leading you to believe he cannot wait to read your inspiring words.

You have nothing ready for tomorrow, and you need more than one night to create something worthy of print. After all, you know this is not just an essay in ninth-grade English class.

This is the big time - this is the base paper! Your words will be read aloud to hundreds of your base colleagues at their next training sessions.

Your article will be posted to the World Wide Web! This is serious, but you must tell the boss you are not prepared.

You uneasily stand and ever so slowly raise your hand. Once recognized, you state, "This is the first I heard of this, sir."

The room explodes with laughter (and yes, it is at your expense this time). Then with a resounding thud, your commander says it.

"I sent an e-mail."

Your mind races, and your breathing stops. When? Did I see it? Did I read it? Did I (heaven forbid) delete it? There is no way I forgot about it! (I think.)

The laughter slows and someone exclaims, "You have a day. What's the problem?"

If you are still reading, I will state the obvious conclusion to this make-believe situation. I, as your fictitious commander, dropped the ball hard. I failed to get my clear message to you in a timely manner.

In this scenario, I failed to follow our Core Values. Learn from my mistake. Do what it takes to communicate your message effectively (Integrity First).

Whether it is a task, safety warning or congratulatory note, follow up. Our mission is too vital to allow single-point failures to defeat us.

If at all possible, never shortchange a team member tasked with an important mission (Service Before Self). Never assume others know what you meant. Be clear. Be direct.

Communication requires action. Make it count (Excellence in All We Do). You may have to pick up the phone or walk over to someone to ensure they received and understood the message.

If you are the recipient, you should make it clear to the sender you received and understand the message.

I attribute the "trust, but verify" model of leadership to former President Ronald Reagan. It makes sense, and usually is a cheap and easy way to complete an assigned mission.

I believe my illustration above could also be applied to any relationship. Superior-subordinate. Neighbors. Spouses. Friends.

Communicate more often and more thoroughly at work and home. Do not be on either end of those frightening and limiting words, "I sent an e-mail."