BLUF – If the road ahead looks empty and you feel a sense of loneliness, it’s because you are leading. Don’t be afraid of it, but remember you aren’t alone.
Looking at a traditional military organizational chart, my position as squadron commander can seem impressive at first glance. Arranged at the top, the “CC” box sits perched like a star on a Christmas tree of personnel. Boxes and lines fill out the organization chart, which is used to depict the relationships of leadership and subordinates. While this depiction of scope of responsibility derived from the top position may seem impressive, here are other perspectives to consider: singular, solitary, lonely.
The design of a singular position of command has it’s purposes, in the military in particular. Decision making authority and responsibility ultimately comes from command positions, of which those decisions are carried out by subordinate positions of leaderships and the team they are responsible for. The squadron commander, is without question the most empowering, challenging, and rewarding position an Air Force officer can achieve. Even more so than any other leadership above squadron commander, because in no other position do you have direct authority and influence over the teams assigned to your unit. Being able to navigate through multiple levels of operations at your discretion and influence personnel and progress and is offered in no other position. With that being said, this position shoulders all the same responsibility singularly. As squadron commander, it is your job to set the tone. It is your job to ensure your personnel understand the priorities. It is your job to create an environment where other leaders within your unit have room to make mistakes yet still achieve success. If you fail at any of these endeavors…it is squarely your fault.
As a squadron commander you have no peers within your organization, but you aren’t alone. Your most immediate advisors, your Superintendent and First Sergeant, can be great soundboards to your ideas, thoughts, and frustrations. Depending on the situation, you as the commander are still ultimately responsible for making the decision, but use their experience and perspective to your advantage. Your fellow squadron commanders are another resource that can be tapped into. I have two groups of peer squadron commanders: those that I work with within my current organization (673d Mission Support Group/673d Air Base Wing), and those who share the same function (Pacific Air Forces communications units). These groups will have a shared perspective of the world due to business relationships and can also provide a “phone a friend” option when you need it. During my first command, I often sought out guidance from a fellow squadron commander, Rob Bearden, who was on his second tour. He wasn’t in communications, but he helped me understand how to deal with situations he has encountered before and how to distinguish between things that are solely my responsibility and things that should be delegated to others in the squadron. Most importantly, he never gave me an answer straight up to my questions; instead he gave me things to consider. He respected my position as a fellow commander who must make the final decision on our own.
Leaders must find comfort in solitude with their own thoughts and do the one job that everyone below and above them in the organization relies on them to do: make a decision. Even if the decision ends up being the wrong one, you as the leader must take ownership of that decision. The pressure can be overwhelming at times, but it will lessen with time and experience. The road to success as you take steps up the organizational ladder can be lonely, but remember you’re not alone.