The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Air Defenders

  • Published
  • By Col. Michael Norton
  • EADS
I couldn't be prouder of our 2015 EADS Annual Award winners and nominees. These highly effective leaders and professionals inspire all of us. I want to share with you a book that inspired me early in my leadership journey: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. Although the title makes it sound like a self-help checklist, it's a much more profound, character-based, approach. Throughout my career, I've repeatedly turned to Covey's insights about how to live my values, exercise personal leadership, and build relationships based on trust. I've also failed time and again to successfully follow Covey's guidance for turning core values into enduring habits, woven into the fabric of everyday life...but I keep trying.
This article addresses the first three habits, which are about leading yourself. Mastering these habits produces individual effectiveness. The next three habits focus on effective relationships. I'll cover those in a future article.

1. Be Proactive

Proactive people don't passively accept the status quo or wait to see what the crowd thinks. They also avoid simply reacting, impulsively or automatically, to a situation. Instead, they repeatedly choose to act, consistent with their principles and values.
When Todd Beamer said "Let's Roll" to lead fellow passengers against the terrorist hijackers of Flight 93, he was certainly being proactive. However, the courage and character he showed that day wasn't some sudden transformation. It was more likely the result of a lifetime of courageous decisions to try to do the right, and often the unpopular, thing. In other words, he acted on 9-11 because being proactive was a habit.

This first habit is much deeper than simply taking the initiative. It's about transforming your life from being a product of your circumstances to being a product of your decisions...decisions that reflect self-awareness, imagination, conscience and independent will. Proactive people transform the organizations, teams and families they belong to.

2. Begin with the End in Mind

Our EADS Vision is "We will detect and defeat the next air attack on America." That is the "end" we seek: doing our job superbly well when our nation needs us most. We proactively choose each and every day whether to live this vision or not. Because of your commitment, I'm confident that we'll be ready when the next attack comes. Our EADS perimeter, networks and power sources will be secure and our crews will proactively and effectively respond to the threat.

Our strategic planning process ensures we continually improve our organization and our capabilities to defeat evolving threats. Although specific plans rarely "survive contact with the enemy," the planning process itself is how we proactively identify opportunities, weak areas and blind spots and prioritize our efforts to the highest leverage activities. I like how Dwight Eisenhower put it: "Plans are nothing, planning is everything."

Similarly, leading yourself requires a clear vision of your life and a sense of mission that inspire you. For many, this includes devotion to families and communities, tenets of faith, and our AF core values of Integrity, Service and Excellence. Covey also urges us to find inspiration in great works of literature and philosophy. For example, this quotation helps inspire me to live the core value of Service Before Self:
This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one....I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.  - George Bernard Shaw

3. Put First Things First

In Habit 2, we reflect on what we stand for and where we're going. Now it's time to live that vision and mission. Unfortunately, ambitious goals often get derailed by unexpected crises, as well as by distractions that seem important but aren't. Covey offers a valuable insight for dealing with the distractions: When you are clearly and firmly saying "yes" to the most important things, it's so much easier to say "No" to what seems urgent, but is less important.

The Four Quadrants diagram helps explain this insight.

Quadrant I, Important and Urgent: At EADS, these are the "must do" activities such as reacting to a target of interest, restoring lost connectivity or power, or caring for an Airman in crisis. For you personally, it might be preparing for an evaluation or an important meeting. At home, this includes home repairs, paying bills, etc.

Quadrant II, Important, but not Urgent: These are the high-leverage activities that improve or even transform you or your organization, but take time. Some examples at work include mentoring, planning and cutting red tape. At home, Quadrant II activities include budgeting and the tough parenting duties. These tasks often take a Many organizations spend too much time in Quadrant I. They lurch from crisis to crisis because they fail to make time for these high leverage activities that don't have an external deadline. But by spending more time in Quadrant II, you often reduce the crises that keep you in Quadrant I.

Quadrants III & IV: Activities that don't support achieving your personal or the organization's vision, mission and priorities. My favorite example? Email. Most emails fall into Quadrant III because you feel a need to reply immediately even if unimportant (in light of your mission and goals). Other examples are surfing the web, office gossip, and busy work.

The new Air Force Inspection System recognizes that units often lack the manning to comply with every regulation without compromising mission readiness. Under the old system, units would "paint the grass." They'd spend a lot of time just prior to inspection pretending they did all the things they can't do and hope the IG didn't notice. "Painting the grass" is a great example of a Quadrant III activity. Under AFIS, however, units are encouraged to identify and focus on activities which are truly important to mission accomplishment and also identify required activities that don't add value. AFIS helps us reduce the time spent in Quadrants III & IV and increase time spent in Quadrant II.
Bottom Line: We all have the power to be highly effective, even transformational, at work and at home. Habit 1: Understand and believe in your power to do it (self-awareness). Habit 2: Envision what you're going to do (imagination and conscience). Habit 3: Do it (independent will).

If I piqued your interest, feel free to stop by to borrow my copy of The Seven Habits. He explains how to draft a personal mission statement and how to live it by integrating it into your weekly schedule. There are also numerous Covey videos on You Tube that are helpful. Two of the more instructive are Covey's explanation of the character-based ethic
and the maturity continuum