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Promoting the more difficult path

  • Published
  • By Col. Steven Bartel
  • 375th Dental Squadron Commander
As the commander of the 375th Dental Squadron, and with a career in dentistry that began more than 25 years ago, I have seen my share of patients. At times, some of these patients were in the clinic for the diagnosis and treatment of severe pain, infection, or uncontrolled bleeding. These were considered true emergencies, and their treatment often involved a more definitive, extensive or traumatic treatment in order to eradicate or alter the source of the problem.

The concern with such treatments both then and now, is that frequently the patient is fearful of such a course of treatment or becomes so once treatment begins. Dentists sensing fear and apprehension in these patients may offer treatment options that are less traumatic or less definitive. This injects the dilemma, for both the dentist and patient, of choosing an easier treatment path or a more difficult and extensive path. If the dentist and patient proceed on the easier path, it may result in the return of the problems, new problems, or a less than ideal solution. In the end, the patient suffers more and may well face inferior future options and resulting consequences of taking the easier route from both the dentist and the patient viewpoints. The more difficult path, although initially daunting, presents the best hope of a future with the promise of sustained health.

From a leadership perspective, we are faced with a similar dilemma both from a subordinate and superior viewpoint. Airmen are confronted with the option of taking the easier route for themselves, as well promoting an easier path to those below them. In particular, this dilemma unfolds in performance reviews of subordinates and co-workers, professional military education and training considerations, work ethics, and assignment and job considerations.

First, in considering working with subordinates or co-workers, it is the easier route to overlook inferior effort and promote the status quo. Unofficially this is seen in the day-to-day work environment, but also officially in feedback and annual performance reports. The immediate result of taking the easier path is merely adequate or substandard work and a resultant decay of the work environment. The longer view may illuminate a subpar organization and Airmen not meeting their potentials. The alternative--accurate and honest feedback and input--will supply succinct objective and subjective critiques of performance. This, if accepted and acted upon, will result in the improved performance for the individual as well as the unit going forward.

A second consideration is continuing education, PME and training. It is far easier and comfortable to remain within an individual's current sphere of knowledge and forgo training that would require sustained and difficult effort. Again, taking this easier route will not allow for personal growth, understanding from a strategic perspective, opening the doors of advancement, or guide the development of the more rounded Airman. The more difficult track would require promoting and enduring the rigors and requirements of training both in time and effort. The end result, though, would be a more rounded Airman, able to excel at today's demands and ready to meet tomorrow's challenges with an enlightened perspective.

Third, strong work ethics are the drivers in the efficiency and effectiveness in the work area's day-to-day schedule. It has been suggested that 20 percent of people do 80 percent of the work. If so, it would be easier to linger in the twenty percent sphere and not push. Doing just the required would not develop excellence nor open the doors of opportunity not yet envisioned. Those who do all that is required above that which is required, and can and will take on additional challenges will ride a growth vector to new heights of personal experience and potential. These individuals, in turn, will take the unit forward and upward.

Lastly, and with particular emphases in an Air Force setting, are assignments and job considerations. As previously noted, comfort is a cradle for stagnation. The easier route is just that, to stay in the known job and assignment. But to those to push for more, the move to the new location and/or job teems with unknown potential for growth. Such a path encourages reaching out, meeting new personalities with the resultant different perspectives, gaining new knowledge and forcing a widened leadership capacity. Again, this would be a win-win for both the individual and the Air Force unit.

In conclusion, the easier path is just that, the path with the least amount of difficulty and input required. Understandably, the comfort and ease of such a path is often the cherished and simplest route taken by individuals and that suggested by superiors. But, just like the dental emergency treatment dilemma, the easier path only makes everyone involved more comfortable initially. The easier path will make future options, growth and opportunities more limited and difficult in the long term view. Individually taking the more difficult path and demanding that of those under our oversight do the same, will make everyone and the Air Force the ultimate benefactors both now and in the future.