Father favors the carrot

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Timothy Wollmuth
  • 934th Operations Group deputy commander
Father's Day, much like Mother's Day has spread throughout most of the world, crossing cultural and political borders. In fact, these holidays may arguably be more widespread than any other religious or secular celebrations around the globe, perhaps because, having parents is the one thing everyone has in common.
Certainly, our perceptions of our parents vary across a broad spectrum. However, regardless of where our perceptions and personal experiences (or lack thereof) fall in this broad spectrum, we all have parents and are undeniably directly or indirectly shaped by them. In the same way, subordinates, super ordinates and our peers develop perceptions of their mentors, leaders, supervisors, commanders and fellow airmen through routine interactions. Our relations with each other, regardless of rank or position, leave an indelible imprint on those we touch, and we have the choice in these relationships whether to idiomatically dangle the carrot or use the stick as we attempt to influence behavior.

As a father reflecting on my own parenting experiences, much of what I try to pass on to my children is accomplished in redundant diatribes containing little lessons about life. Like most parents, I hope these lessons will help my children grow into people far better than I am. Behavioral psychologists refer to these lessons as positive or negative re-enforcement, commonly known as the carrot or the stick approach. This idiom references a driver on a cart being pulled by a mule. The driver has the choice to use the stick to beat the mule to get it moving, or to dangle the carrot in front of the mule to entice it to comply.

While behavioral scientists debate which form of re-enforcement is more effective, life experience would indicate there is a time and a place for each. For example, in aviation, some behaviors need to be corrected immediately and then debriefed, re-enforced and learned from after the fact in the interest of protecting expensive assets and saving lives. Other areas of behavioral modification are less time critical and do not carry the weight of expense or possible loss of life, and as such, a more positive approach can be used to correct and change behavior. Indeed, negative re-enforcement may cajole somebody to meet a suspense date, correct non-compliance of a process or comply with Air Force core values, yet studies indicate that positive re-enforcement has a more enduring impact for the simple reason that most people perform better in up-beat environments. As the adage goes, positive attitudes breed success, and success breeds more success.

We have all been enticed with the carrot and the stick by our parents, guardians, teachers, among others. As supervisors, mentors, and commanders, we are all faced with countless challenges to group and individual behavior. As Airmen we are all entrusted by our government and our fellow citizens to provide for the national defense with world premier Air, Space and Cyberspace power, and we must not defile that public trust. While we guide our peers, motivate our subordinates, and assist our supervisors in accomplishing the Air Force mission, we have two behavioral choices, the carrot or the stick. It's your choice, but I am going to favor the carrot.

Thanks dad for teaching the simple lessons and Happy Father's Day to all of you dads!