Exceptional Leader Spotlight: Reflection from the beginning

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Ericka A. Woolever
  • 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Looking into the mirror are you satisfied with the reflection gazing back, are you where you want to be?

Airman 1st Cass Tyler McConnell, explosive ordnance disposal team member from the 31st Civil Engineer Squadron, Aviano Air Base, looked within and was not fulfilled with the life he was living.

“I grew up in Lancaster, CA and played hockey my whole life,” said McConnell. “I was in my junior year of college and just wasn’t happy or satisfied when I decided to look into joining the Air Force.”

McConnell didn’t have a plan or a clear vision of what he wanted his life to look like-until a very important day.

“Up to this point in life I was just coasting along with no real life goals or plans,” said McConnell. “Graduating from the joint service Explosive Ordnance Disposal School at Eglin, FL, gave me that sense of what I should be doing with my life.”

The accomplishment of graduation did not come easy, it took every ounce of dedication and even little pre-test snack.

“My biggest challenges came during tech school,” said McConnell. “You only get two chances to pass a test and you need a score of 85% to pass. If you fail a test twice and you face getting dropped from school. A few times I faced a retest which adds a lot of pressure to an already difficult problem. I overcame this by just focusing on the positives and learning from the previous mistakes, as well as some deep breath and a lucky pretest snack: milk and refrigerated hostess chocolate donuts from the night before.”

Failure is very difficult for many leaders to face, because many view it as a mistake rather than a lesson learned.

“People will always experience failure, and I experienced a lot through tech school and being here,” said McConnell. Those failures are what makes me better at my job. If I got upset every time I failed or did not know why I failed then I may not be here today and I would never get better at my job.”

Seeing the positive in any difficult situation is a characteristic that many exceptional leaders possess. According to McConnell, humility is also one.

“Keeping your ego in check allows you to make a more practical decision and not just a decision because you feel threatened by someone else’s better idea,” said McConnell.

Instead of viewing new ideas as a threat, McConnell believes that it’s important for a successful leader to understand.

“It is important to determine what does and what doesn’t work for you and understanding the same for your teammates,” said McConnell. “I know what works for me when it comes to training and understanding new materials, this is crucial for me to be a successful team member. Understanding your teammates is crucial to mission success and safety for everyone.”

McConnell strives to be the best Airman he can be and live up to his definition of leadership.

“A good leader is someone who knows what motivates their troops and leads by example,” said McConnell. “A good leader is someone who can help me develop in my job as well as a person and someone I would be willing to go to battle with.”