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Leadership soup

Chief Master Sgt. Gerald Babcock serves at the 166th Airlift Wing as the 166th Security Forces Squadron Manager. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Katherine Miller)

Chief Master Sgt. Gerald Babcock serves at the 166th Airlift Wing as the 166th Security Forces Squadron Manager. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Katherine Miller)

NEW CASTLE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Del. --

My leadership philosophy is captured in the process of building a great soup. In order to build a great soup, you have to start with the right pot and a fire to heat it over. Once that selection is made, you must take the time to create an exquisite broth. Next, you must decide what you will add to the soup to give it substance. Finally, you must continually tend the soup, making minor adjustments to the heat, refreshing the broth and the substance as needed, adding a little salt or spice as you test the taste, and knowing when it’s just right for the audience of diners you are serving. Great soup is a masterpiece that is painted on the palate of the consumers and has the opportunity to improve over generations if it is shared with other soup makers. In the same way, great leadership must be painted on the canvas of those who are led and shared with them so they can begin to make their own soup.

Selecting a Pot: Much like pots hold a soup together, relationships are the container of organizational health. If the pot is too thin, high heat could melt it or allow the contents to scorch. I liken this to building professional relationships – spending time learning who my team is and allowing those on my team to learn who I am creates the environment in which I will work as a leader.

Starting the Fire: This has to have happened long before a leader ascends to a leadership role in an organization. This is the passion I bring with me to fuel the catalyst of a continuous improvement of self and those around me in order to reach the organizational goals.

Making the Broth: A broth is the base which the soup is built upon and begins to set it apart from other soups. It is competence built over time dedicated to learning my profession. It is understanding the standards we live by. It is knowing what we can, cannot, must, and must not do according to organizational values and culture. This is the culmination of my training, education, and experience brought together to allow me to do my job to the best of my ability. My competence broth gets thicker and richer every time I strengthen my training, education, and experience pool.

Adding Ingredients: This provides the substance and nourishing part of the soup. It is character exhibited by a leader and resources brought to the organization through a leader’s efforts. I show my character in my commitment to my subordinates by holding them accountable to our organizational standards while simultaneously giving them an environment where they can make mistakes and learn from them secure in the knowledge that I will give them top cover. I show my character to my leaders in holding myself to our organizational standards while simultaneously ensuring they feel free to share their leadership ideas, concerns, and vulnerabilities with me secure in the knowledge that I will give them bottom cover and help them transmit mission and intent to the rest of their subordinate team. I show my character through personal courage, direct and honest communication with subordinates and superiors alike, and by asking not only “can we”, but also “should we” when faced with hard decisions. Finally, all these ingredients must come from somewhere. I establish and maintain relationships with external stakeholders in order to have access to the largest stock of ingredients possible. This results in training opportunities, financial resources for equipment purchases, and support organizations to bolster our resiliency.

Tending the Soup: Tending the soup is a time-intensive task requiring constant attention and adjustment of heat and spices as necessary to receive the desired outcome. This is the follow through of a leader. I do this by re-engaging with subordinates who bring me problems to solution. I also do this by setting measureable milestones and checking on those milestones. I avoid doing it so much that the “soup” never simmers because I’m forever lifting the lid, and I accept the feedback of my subordinates when they believe I am doing just that. Finally, I do this through answering the “why” on things we do, resolving miscommunications, and providing ongoing feedback on performance of those around me.

Serving the Soup: A soup uneaten is wasted effort. I serve my subordinates by performing regular formal and informal feedback sessions with them. I stay consistent, transparent, and committed to continuous improvement. I accept feedback from sources both above and below me in our organization. I show compassion when members earn corrective action and counsel them on how to recover.

Teaching Soup Making: This ensures the legacy of my soup will continue. I stay committed to teaching leadership by involving my team members in the process every step of the way. I assign rank appropriate tasks that are attainably above current assigned responsibility levels in order to encourage growth. I provide regularly scheduled developmental discussions on topics which require critical thinking skills applicable to a wide range of problem sets rather than one scenario solution focus. Finally, I accept all requests for development assistance and I use every opportunity I recognize to conduct “hip pocket” leadership training.

So, who wants to make soup with me?