Wilson’s nine parallels for leadership

  • Published
  • Twenty-Fifth Air Force Public Affairs

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- As former Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson departed her civil service career to step into the role of President, University of Texas, El Paso, she passed along parting words of wisdom and encouragement to senior enlisted leader at a recent summit.

Among her reflections, she attributed her skills in executive leadership to what she learned from gardening and the 4-H Club, noting nine rules.  

Rule #1: Start with a plan. Do not start putting seeds in without a plan. Ensure you have enough space for everything you need to do and adjust as you go.

Rule #2: It is a whole lot better if you work with friends. You get more done, you have more fun and you deepen bonds.

Rule #3: Accommodate others’ dreams. By accommodating the dreams of people you are working with, you can build a team to accomplish something bigger than yourself.

Rule #4: Plant in the right soil. Some plants need shade while others need abundant sunlight. You must have seeds in the right soil. And get sceptics on board; engage them in your vision and bring them on the team. Also, encourage and empower builders.           

Rule #5: You have to weed a lot. When you garden, one of the hardest things to do is to decide which carrots are going to live and which carrots are going to die. It takes a lot of time. If you are not careful, you are going to rip up too many.           

Rule #6: Plant more than you could possibly eat; some will not make it. Share with your neighbors to establish and strengthen partnerships and relationships.           

Rule #7: Always be prepared to fight; there are some mean dogs and kids in the neighborhood. Even if you are the littlest kid, if you look pretty tough and you have a stick nearby, then sometimes you do not have to fight. Executive leaders must be prepared to stand up and fight for what they believe is right. Your people are watching to see if you have their back.           

Rule #8: The blue ribbon depends on your ability to explain your garden. Be able to effectively communicate what you did and why you did it.           

Rule #9: Think of the long term. You plant things knowing, if you do it well, you may not be around when crops ripen. It is not about your two- or three-year assignment, it is about making the Air Force better for the long-term. It is about developing Airmen who will be here in 20 years. It is always about living our values because those values that live themselves out in little acts by hundreds of thousands of people and leaders every day set the culture in which we thrive as a service.

Wilson leaves behind a considerable mark on the enterprise and its force of 685,000 Airmen worldwide. She helped develop and manage the Air Force’s annual budget of more than $138 billion, and was an influential voice directing strategy and policy development, risk management, weapons acquisition, technology investments and talent management of Airmen.

The departing service secretary was a central figure in efforts to strengthen and build the Air Force to meet new global threats, particularly those posed by near-peer competitors. Lastly, she was a strong advocate for increasing overall readiness and addressing personnel shortages that affected the Air Force’s ability to fulfill any mission at any time.