Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright’s no-nonsense style has earned him a devoted following among many airmen.
When he visited cadets at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs on Thursday, he made it quite clear — and in a colorful way — how he thinks they will need to set the tone in their organizations.
Wright, who appeared at the academy’s National Character and Leadership Symposium, said he travels about 300 days each year. Typically, he first checks in with each organization’s commander, first sergeant, command chief or other top leader.
Sometimes, he said, he’ll get a chief, first shirt or commander telling him, “Let me tell you how bad it is here, let me tell you how hard it is, let me tell you how challenging things are, let me tell you how much it sucks, let me tell you how bad we have it.”
But what Wright hears, he said to laughter, is, “Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah.”
Sure enough, when he goes to talk to the airmen on the line in those organizations, he’ll hear the same complaints and “Wah, wah, wah.”
But leadership doesn’t always go that way, he said. At other organizations, the leaders will tell him, “Chief, it’s tough out here ... we’re isolated, but let me tell you about some of the things we’re doing to make life better for all of our airmen [or] how we’re working with some of our partners to get around some of these challenges, [and] let me tell you about the great airmen at this organization.”
And when he goes to talk to those organizations’ airmen, he doesn’t hear complaining — even under tough conditions. Those airmen emulate the positive attitudes of their leaders, he said.
“Your organization, your office, your squadron, your brigade, your battalion, your company, will go as you go,” Wright said. “You’re responsible for setting the tone, for setting the pace, for setting the culture, for setting the environment in your organization.”
Wright preceded his comments with a clip from his “all-time favorite” movie, “Remember the Titans,” that underscored the idea that “attitude reflects leadership.”
Check out Wright’s remarks, beginning at the 11-minute mark, to hear his impression of the grousing leaders and their airmen.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.