From the Top: My professional opinion

  • Published
  • By By Senior Master Sgt. Paul Cornell
  • 36th Maintenance Group first sergeant
Most Airmen, officer or enlisted, who have been around a while would tell you there are a handful of experiences they'll remember forever. Usually it's a few harrowing minutes that are forever burned into their minds. Sometimes it's something so profound, it changed their perspectives forever. I had one of those moments about nine years ago. 

At Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., I was fortunate to be part of a four-person board responsible for selecting the Airman of the quarter. That board probably did more to help shape my career than any other event, and it was all due to a young Airman who had only been in the Air Force three years. As he sat in front of us, he was asked, "What is your opinion of the new Air Force policy on tattoos?" His answer was profound then and still is today. He simply asked this, "Do you want my personal opinion, or my professional opinion?" 

He was allowed to provide both and in a nutshell here's what he said. "In my personal opinion, I don't really care what people want to have tattooed on their bodies. It doesn't affect me one way or the other. However, my professional opinion is the Air Force has decided excessive tattoos need to be covered while in uniform. Therefore, I'll enforce the policy despite what I might think personally." 

Those words, simple and candid, have stuck with me ever since and served me well in difficult situations. That one short answer gave me the key I needed to unlock the leadership potential I had inside. Thinking about his answer helped me understand the difference between my personal feelings and my professional responsibilities. 

We've all faced times when our own thoughts or opinions didn't fall in line with Air Force policy. But what do you do when you're faced with this dilemma? Do you make your personal feelings known? Do you try to convince those around you how right you are and how wrong the Air Force is? If this is the way you react, you may have a long and stressful career ahead of you. 

My days became much easier and less stressful when I finally understood the meaning of my professional opinion. It meant I had to accept that there would be times when I didn't necessarily agree with the Air Force. But when those times arose, I'd work hard to sell my professional responsibility, not my personal agenda. It's a little easier now, but it can still be challenging. 

We're not asking Airmen to be robots, but we do need you to be "company people." We need you to think freely and be your own person. But we also need everyone to believe in and support our "company" policies. If you haven't accepted Air Force policy as the right thing to do, how can you expect to lead your subordinates in the right direction? 

I suggest that when the time comes you can't support "the company" anymore, it's time to leave. Imagine an environment where everyone was allowed to work, speak and react based on their own opinion. The chaos and lack of cohesion would prevent us from accomplishing anything. 

I'm not sure why I wasn't able to understand this concept any earlier than I did, but when I finally accepted it, my days became shorter and much happier. You might think I'm crazy, but hey, that's my opinion.