The sand suspended in the air was worse than usual. A recent sandstorm had made the air almost opaque and I could only see for a few feet. I could barely see the 26 airplanes parked in front of me, or the approximately 200 mechanics who were working to get them ready to fly. (The picture was taken in the daytime) As I walked towards where I knew the planes were, I could begin to make out their shapes, and see the outline of the troops scurrying about. Within the next hour or so, at least 20 of those airplanes would be airborne.
The airplanes were C-130 transports many of which were more than 40 years old. They had spent their years in hard use, carrying heavy loads around the world often landing in barely improved dirt strips. They were old, tired airplanes. But because of the mechanics that toiled day and night to keep them mission ready, they could still do the job.
Those mechanics worked in conditions that were uncomfortable at best. Our weather guys measured the temperature on the flightline at 130 degrees Fahrenheit. During the day, there was a nice breeze; sort of like a blast furnace; blowing constantly at 40 – 50 miles per hour and carrying the fine sand which provided a free, daily exfoliation. When they weren’t working, they slept. Sort of. Their quarters were rat infested tents which at least were a little cooler than the outside temperature.
They took the conditions in stride and only seemed to be upset when they couldn’t get the parts needed to make their airplanes fly. Amazingly, many of them were volunteers who had been there multiple times. Even those who were not volunteers maintained a good attitude. Though our location was relatively safe, those old planes flew all over that part of the world and into some very hostile places. Sometimes they would break there and require a team of maintainers to fix them. There was never a shortage of volunteers for those dangerous missions.
What would make these men and women so positive about such a difficult situation?
Mission. They knew that every time they put one of those tired old airplanes in the air, they were preventing a convoy from driving on the dangerous roads of Iraq or Afghanistan.
One of the best ways to achieve a high level of motivation in any organization is to ensure your team members understand how essential they are. The leader must be able to clearly explain what the team’s mission is, what their goals are, and why they are important. Whatever product or service you provide, be enthusiastic about it. A leader’s enthusiasm is contagious.
Those mechanics had a clear understanding of how they were important to the larger operation. They knew they were a vital part of something bigger than each of them individually.
What about your team? Do they understand the mission and how important they are to that mission?