To honor Pararescue Chief Ramon Colon-Lopez’s recent selection to the highest enlisted position in the military, we are publishing his 5-part must-read Carnivore Leadership series. Chief “CZ’s” papers can be applied to everyone in and out of the military and will make you a better AFSPECWAR applicant, operator, leader and person. Enjoy the first round: Silver Bullets.
Vol 1. Silver Bullets for Effective Leadership
By: CMSgt Ramon Colon-Lopez
My aim is to provide our Service’s Carnivore Warriors a proactive perspective on leadership. Below are quotes and references collected through nineteen years of studying leadership. I have learned that success in life is attributed to well taught, unselfish, charismatic figures that were given an opportunity to make a difference. These pioneers of life took chances, ventured out of their comfort zone, and came out victorious by taking action without fear of failure. I share these lessons to provide a means for professional growth and to encourage action while ensuring effective leadership at all levels.
To continue the promotion of excellence amongst the enlisted and officer ranks and have a better led, fit, and motivated force to accomplish our assigned mission.
Use for speaking engagements, performance feedback sessions, or any other opportunity to professionally develop the force. I highly encourage you to share your experiences through the creation of your own silver bullets. Let’s start making a difference today by creating tomorrow’s leaders.
What is a carnivore?
The analogy originated when I was a young Pararescueman (PJ) attached to a SEAL team where they would categorize people as either “carnivores” or “herbivores.”
To be referred as a “carnivore” or “meat eater” meant that the person was a dependable, loyal, dedicated and skillful teammate with unquestionable mission focus. They were the “go-to” people that acted decisively in the absence or orders. In comparison, think of a velociraptor roaming the earth, looking for the perfect mean, and willing to sacrifice it all in order to get it (even at the price of death.) [Able/willing, Courageous, Determined]
To be referred as an “herbivore” or a “grass-eater” meant that the person was unmotivated, unreliable, and always dependent on someone else to take care of the task. They were the “oxygen thieves” and problems of the organization, disobedient to orders and always carrying an A3 bag full of excuses. Picture in this case a fat, log-necked dinosaur wobbling across the plains with many others just like them. They eat grass simply because it grows, doesn’t put up a fight, and is easy for the taking. They always search for that low hanging fruit and call such easy feeding an accomplishment. [Complacent, Mediocre, Lazy]
To be a carnivore is the ethos of any Service member living by their service’s core values, always challenging yourself to be better than average, regardless of specialty. It is the service member that reports for duty able and willing to earn their keep every day-fueled by the right habits. It also entails recognizing that only the mediocre are always at their best and that learning never stops. A carnivore not only meets all standards, it exceeds most. To be a carnivore means to never let your guard down and succumb to the ways of the herbivore [laziness].
There are very few certified herbivores in the DOD, and there are plenty of young soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines looking for role models that are willing to provide guidance on how to be better. Certified carnivores need to engage, correct, and create a culture of excellence and pride in service. Carnivores make a difference everyday…because they care.
I am proud to serve in your company and look forward to crossing paths with you in the near future.
20 SILVER BULLETS
1. If you want to fly with the eagles, don’t hang around with the turkeys
We are products of our environment. Ensure association with successful and motivated personnel and stay away from the nay-sayers and slackers. Attitudes are very contagious…exude a positive attitude and set the tone for others!
2. The path to success is not easy, cheap, or quick…it will require you to get up an hour earlier and go to bed an hour later than the rest.
Paying attention to detail, ensuring quality, and striving for excellence are time consuming tasks that are also taxing on the mind and body. However, the positive outcome of hard work and due diligence makes every second spent on any given task well worth it. Quality control is less painful and much easier than damage control.
3. The best way to stay in shape is to never get out of shape
Get accustomed to an active and healthy lifestyle. It will make you more energetic, create a positive mindset, and give you utmost confidence. It also provides a proper military image. We are the nation’s warriors…let’s look like it and have the energy to do what the nation asks of us!
4. Amateurs train until they get it right, professionals’ train until they can’t get it wrong
Always strive for perfection. Keep in mind that, in the United States Air Force, we are here to execute a “NO-FAIL” mission. This applies to everything we do; garrison, combat, and with our families. This is our core value of “Excellence in all we do”. We must maximize every opportunity to make ourselves better, so we can in turn teach others to be great. Practice and hard work makes perfect. Proper execution brings us excellence.
5. Never pass up a great opportunity to shut the hell up if you have nothing productive to say
Speak when adding value to the subject of the conversation. Learn to listen when you have no input…do not get in the habit of loving to hear yourself speak! Lastly, remember that you do not have to attend every argument you are invited to. Silence is sometimes golden and classy.
6. Wherever you go, there you are…so make yourself useful
Always find a way to exist and earn your keep. Never deny a helping hand to those in need.
7. Always leave the workplace better than how you found it
Our goal in life must be to continuously improve all things we come across. This continuous improvement is imperative to ensure the success, advancement, and positive reputation of our organization. Set up your replacements for success. Leave your mark everywhere you go!
8. The true aim of an education is not knowledge but action
Use the hours spent in the classroom as a means to plan for and to take action. Our main goal is to lead the charge when presented with the opportunity; not to talk about it. Remember that it is what WE DO rather than what WE KNOW that matters most.
9. Never ask anyone to do anything that you are not willing to do yourself
The best way to gain loyalty and trust from you personnel is to let them know you care about what they do by experiencing it yourself. I have always chosen to “do things” vs. “death by PowerPoint” when getting familiar with a squadron’s assigned mission (unit immersions). Have both the courage and abilities to perform and lead from the front.
10. Where there is a choice to be made, there is a lesson to be learned
Always have the courage to act decisively and to assume risk in order to gain experience. Risk-taking raises awareness of one’s limitation and capabilities. Not all things in life will be pleasant, but what really matters is what we learn from any given situation. There is value to every experience, so recognize the outcome of your actions, take ownership, learn from it, and move on with life. Good judgment comes from experience, and that sometimes comes from bad judgment.
11. Luck is when preparation and opportunity meet
When an opportunity presents itself, take it! Always be prepared to perform your assigned duties and always be ready to lead those who may have not developed the confidence required for the task. Your leadership may be all they need to perform in an outstanding manner. Make the opportunity count by always springing into action and not being afraid of failure.
12. Image is a first impression; daily demeanor is a lasting impression
Be sure to always present yourself as a caring professional. Be genuine, be yourself, be honest. Open up avenues of communication and facilitate for others to do the same. Bipolar leadership IS NOT effective. Ensure your personnel know they will always be dealing with the same person they trust, not the one based on the mood of the day.
13. Heroism is of the moment, but professionalism is a constant
A hero is someone who acts valiantly in the face of danger. A professional is one who always does the right thing, takes time to professionally develop based on organizational needs, and strives for perfection to ensure excellence. Do not confuse the two because heroes do not always make the best professionals. Also, not all heroes make great leaders. Also, not all heroes make great leaders. Always measure one’s potential by their well-roundness and potential to serve in a higher grade, not solely on the deeds of the day.
14. Loyalty is not mindless obedience
Loyalty is the foundation of trust. Trust is built on honesty. Honesty is our best policy. Do not fall victim to following orders that are not clearly understood, immoral, unethical, or just stupid. Have the guts to ask for clarification, provide input as needed, and to stand for what is right.
15. Bad habits are like a comfortable bed…really easy to get into and really had to get out of
When it comes to habit, start on the right path early and stay on course for the rest of your military career. Ensure to spot correct those who are wrong and laud those who are doing right. Always uphold the standards at all times by continuously checking yourself. Get in the habit of leading by example even when you think no one is looking or paying attention…because someone always is!
16. A life without humor is like a book without words
Always keep a good sense of humor around the workplace. People tend to do their best work when they are comfortable around their peers and leadership in a welcoming work environment. Have you ever met anyone who doesn’t like to have fun and smile? Keep smiling and show up for duty everyday ginning like the Cheshire Cat!
17. Know the difference between “character” and “reputation”
Character is who you are; reputation is how others see you. Character is of most importance because it defines you from within. If you have solid character, then your reputation will precede you. The same goes for bad character…
18. A promise made is a promise kept
Promise keeping is by far one of the most important duties of a leader. Ensure that you do not make promises that you are not able to deliver. Take time to research, bring in subject matter experts, develop courses of action, and then inform personnel on what you can do for them (or their organization). Also, ensure to deliver on time.
19. Time management is a waste of time…concentrate on “action” management instead
Effectively managing five minutes does not give you ten minutes. What you do in those five minutes is what truly matters. Get in the habit of concentrating on actions (to do list) instead of a clock. Task management will help you maximize the duty day every time.
20. Lead people with dignity and respect at all times
A fact of life: people will make mistakes. People will also do things that may not match your own values. They should not be held in contempt because of differences or the negative outcome of a lapse of judgment. Instead, find a way to help them get back on track by first making sure they know what they did wrong in an objective manner and then help them get out of the hole they got into. “Never leave an airman behind” comes to mind when I think about helping others. Always use dignity and respect and always take the high road out of any situation. Of note, remember that one should not waste neither time or effort on those who are not willing to help themselves first.
As you load these 20 silver bullets into your 30 round magazine, notice that there is still space for additional bullets. Take your successes and failures (referred to as powder for ammo) and write them down along with the lessons learned (the shell casing). Pour the powder into the shell casing, place an “armor-piercing silver tip” on it, and load it into your magazine for your future battles. Regardless of the complexity of the battle, one must always be prepared to face the enemy and ensure your teammates are ready to cover your left, right, and rear flanks. Victory is a team endeavor. It is what we do; it is our way of life. We know no other way.