BLUF – Empowering Mission Command at the lowest level is dependent on trust. Without trust, teams will drown in unnecessary guidance that hampers freedom of maneuver to get the mission done.
While sitting in the surrey with the Honorable Heather Wilson, Secretary of the Air Force, during her visit to JBER, I was lucky to hear some of her insight straight from the source. A common theme covered during her trip was trying to minimize guidance to allow mission command to happen at the lowest level. I even passed on the idea of “AFI Shark Tank”, where she should offer up the opportunity for anyone to present a five-minute pitch to her on what guidance needs to be removed or delegated down and why. If they “win”, the SecAF would sign the waiver right then and there, basically skipping the nine levels of Inferno we all feel we must venture to get something done. She seemed warm to the idea, but her staff got really worried, hahaha! If this actually happens, I’m claiming partial credit! Seriously though, I’m going to pitch this idea to my Wing Commander to see what she thinks about it. I think she’d be surprised at what ideas our front lines have to execute their mission more efficiently.
An interesting point was raised by a Command Chief sitting with us. He said, “The reason why we have so much guidance out there is because we don’t trust each other. We have to right things down to preserve a sense of control over one another and double/triple-check each other’s work instead of doing what’s right at the lowest level.” This really hit me as the core of what we as a force are trying to achieve through the “Revitalizing the Squadron” initiative. We are trying to rebuild the trust that used to be baked in to Squadron leadership to get the mission done instead of being worried about risk and passing up hard decisions unnecessarily up the chain of command. Secretary Wilson shared a story where an Airman who was trusted with handling nuclear weapons had to obtain a four-star signature to be trusted to handle a key to a locker in a fitness center! Ridiculous!
I’m sure there are multiple reasons on how we grew into an organization that didn’t trust each other, but we need build our cases to present to leadership and figure out ways to build that trust again. I also don’t think this effort falls under the “Innovation” effort that I’m beginning to develop an allergy to because the idea is getting watered down, is going to tune people out as soon as the word is stated (see previous example: Resiliency), and is open to way too much interpretation. Building and maintaining trust in each other has been a foundational element of teamwork since the creation of teams, so by definition you can’t innovate something that is original. Anyways, creating efficiencies in our daily duties and executing the mission can be found by stripping away guidance that erodes trust in each other. There are still instances where guidance must be written down, but there needs to be a really good reason why the guidance needs to exist and there needs to be built in consequences for not adhering to the guidance that doesn’t involve senior leader engagement. By building trust in each other and pushing authorities down or removing guidance where it isn’t needed, we are “shortening the kill chain” to mission execution. That time savings can definitely be applied elsewhere, either in tackling the next task or sharing a high-five with your teammate on a job well done (hopefully both). Even better, these efforts cost absolutely nothing! No fighting for “innovation funds”, we are just doing our jobs and doing what is expected of us: Excellence in all we do.
Photo credit: A1C Crystal Jenkins, 673d Air Base Wing Public Affairs