Independence and diversity Published June 30, 2020 By Chief Master Sgt. Tina Gilson, 436th Operations Group superintendent DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- Socrates said, “To find yourself, think for yourself.” To find oneself is to find one’s independence. Independence is our ability to make decisions and live life free from the control or influence of other people. This definition would suggest that independence can be an isolating concept, but in reality, independence can be a valuable and uniting force. For centuries, men and women from around the globe have joined to fight for their right to be valued, heard, respected and equal; to be recognized for their own individuality; and to be independent. Throughout our history and even in our Air Force today, many Airmen feel they have lost their individuality; that they are not seen, heard, valued or respected for who they are; and that they have lost their independence. So how do we fix this? My answer to this is not a simple one, but there are a few things I feel we must do as individuals and leaders before we can achieve our goal of continuing to be “The World’s Greatest Air Force.” Mahatma Gandhi said “If you want to change the world, start with yourself.” As leaders, one of the first things we must do is, find our independence and determine who we want to be as leaders. I always strive to be my best self, to find ways to be better tomorrow than I am today and to always set a good example. Leaders must find ways to embrace their own independence and diversity in an effort to connect with others and positively influence them towards creating meaningful change. Just as a strong foundation is required to fortify the strength of an architectural design, a strong culture is required to fortify the success of any organization. Another important action that leaders must take is to create a culture that values the virtues of independence and diversity. The culture within our organization will determine how successful we are in executing our mission. Without creating an Airman-centered culture focused on ensuring our people are valued for their differences – who they are, where they come from and how they contribute – our organization cannot reach its full potential. The strength of any leader is directly reflected in the decisions they make and the culture they create. Leaders must inspire others to strive for mutual respect, to understand that we all come from different backgrounds and to embrace the diverse experiences that each of us bring to our great organization. Independence and diversity are vital components in problem-solving and driving innovation. As a fire can be started with two objects to produce a spark, people’s differences of thought and experience can coalesce to form fantastic and novel ideas. Leaders must explore and capture the independence and diversity of their people to find the spark within their people and use it as a catalyst to ignite innovation. We must continually seek opportunities to value and hone our organization’s most valuable and versatile asset – our people. By properly acknowledging and employing our people’s independence and diversity, we will successfully shape our organization into the Air Force of the future.