COMMENTARY: Your sphere of influence—how are you using it?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jake Thornburg
  • 54th Airlift Squadron commander

As I reflect on the past two years in command, I want to share an important lesson and that is to control what you can control—your sphere of influence.

The Air Force recently produced a video with its Chief of Staff, Gen. David Goldfein, called, “Because of You – Aviators.” If you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to watch it—it’s good.

It gets me fired up and excited to push the mission and reminds me why I’m part of this team.  It’s also a signal to all Airmen that General Goldfein understands the issues and challenges we face and is dedicated to solving them.

These challenges affect our quality of life, our ability to do the mission, and our job satisfaction.  Some of our challenges are profound and out of our control, but the video reminds us that it is these profound challenges offer the greatest opportunities for innovation, leadership, and personal growth—if we have the right attitude.

Visit a military related social media site or blog, and you’ll find plenty of people who have an opinion about how leaders in the Air Force are tackling these issues.  Passionate debate is important; however, today more than ever in my 19-year career, many of these voices seem filled with heated emotions, a lack of facts, and are overly negative.

My guess is if you’re an Airman who joined the Air Force to make a difference, you wanted to make a positive difference.  If we really want to get after our issues, we need to take personal responsibility to lock up the negativity and embrace the challenges as historic opportunities.

The Air Force needs positive thinkers, positive leaders, and positive doers—those with a positive sphere of influence.  Controlling the things you can control within your sphere of influence and having the right attitude shifts a problem into an opportunity; it turns grumbling into a chance to lead Airmen; or a way to secure funding, improve processes, or improve a mission.  It turns dissatisfaction and annoyance into fulfillment and personal growth for yourself and those around you.

Positivity isn’t easy, and I struggle with it myself.  But what does work for me and can for you is to just start small.

Start with what you can control and do it with a positive attitude.  In turn your positive sphere of influence will expand and have an affect on other Airmen.

If you’re a flight commander, start in your flight.  Put processes in place that empower those in your flight and get after issues facing your squadron.  Empowerment leads to ownership and ownership leads to a positive outcome almost every time.

If you’re a junior Airman running a small admin section, make it the best it can be by controlling what you can control.  Remember the Air Force put you there to make that squadron more efficient and lethal.

Your solutions within your sphere of influence may just be the fix your career field was looking for or what the entire Air Force needs.  And while General Goldfein’s sphere of influence is extensive, he can’t solve all these issues on his own.  Each of us has a sphere of influence we live and work in – start there.