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Minimal Essential Effort

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- I like to think I've made a pretty good living at figuring the minimum to get by, and while I'm no authority on leadership, I'll share my take on a few textbook principles anyway.

Rule 1 - When the heat's on you, it ain't on me: I have a technique to preempt "help" from my bosses. I pay attention to my commander, close attention to the vice and extremely close attention to the wing commander--what he writes, says, does and what he thinks is important. I put the bulk of my effort here. It saves hundreds of hours being reactive, and as a bonus, frees up senior leadership calendars so they have more time to help other squadron commanders.

Rule 2 - Tasker Darwinism: I pay scant attention to 90 percent of what comes across my desk, and I'm willing to take a tail chewing if I misjudge a priority. If a tasker is truly important, it will survive; otherwise natural selection will kill it. This buys back 20 hours per week I can spend elsewhere, but beware, as this is risky. See Rule 1.

Rule 3 - Status quo is your friend: Contrary to popular myth, not everything needs to be better. If an organization or process works, leave it the heck alone. Perpetual "improvements" are disruptive, morale killers and squander time. Admittedly, I'm a hypocrite, as our squadron initiated a huge project to standardize operations between the two launch wings, but only after buy in from both wing commanders. Otherwise, I resist the overwhelming urge to remold everything to my preferences.

Rule 4 - Best people = less work: For me that is. Quality people matter. I spend more time on people issues than everything else combined, and it's not because I'm altruistic. I'm prepping for the future. As an exec for Maj. Gen. Bob Smolen, I answered a hundred inquiries for every opening in his Air Staff directorate. It could have been Antarctica, and people would still have lined up to work for him, which would have probably been less painful than the Pentagon. He had a career-long reputation for the highest promotion rates, best follow-on jobs and taking the best care of his Airmen. Consequently, he got the best people who did all the work so he didn't have to. A reputation like this takes years to build, and only one day to lose.

Rule 5 - The minimum to get by is to always do the best job possible.