BLUF – Successful leaders know how to deliver authentic team engagement with genuine interest, not forced interactions on what they think a leader “should do”.
Authenticity is something that you must make a conscious effort towards both before and throughout your command tour. Before your first day on the job, don’t get caught up in what you think you need to be. There will be self-induced pressure for you to fit a certain role that you think you need to fill, and you really don’t. Your leadership elements have primed your selection for command and have been recognized as something special, and your individual style should remain that…individual.
Personnel within your squadron will respond to someone that is genuine in their skin and is not afraid to wear their opinions and weaknesses on their sleeve. These choices do not make you superior to anyone but unravel the perception of you potentially being a heartless and robotic leader that is just waiting to discipline someone because they carry that responsibility as squadron commander. The idea of an “untouchable” leader that operates as a higher, disconnected entity from the rest of the squadron is not something that resonates within a healthy work environment. This isn’t to say that you as a squadron commander must be able to know the tactical level details of each of your teammates accomplishes their job, but rather there is an expectation for you at minimum to have a genuine care for everyone’s contribution to the mission. This could be accomplished by spending time with them to learn or further understand their job. This time can be purposefully included in your schedule, but I would recommend that you don’t use this technique. Instead, find the open windows in your schedule (you have those, right?) to drop in work centers and have conversations that aren’t revolved around work. Instead, ask what are their plans for the weekend? What’s the next movie everyone is excited about? What’s the best local place for burgers? Pick a conversation topic that has nothing to do with the hierarchy of your unit or your functional responsibility, but rather a common topic where everyone can participate in the conversation. Personal preferences can be easily discussed (not debated) without any pre-requisite training or field experience, which can open doors to deeper conversations on interests, values, and motivation. Conversations on informal topics can transition to the workplace, but be sure to work on making genuine connections with your teammates and respect them as a person worthy of your time first.
An easy method to keep being you as a squadron commander is to embrace and crossflow the techniques of the multiple identities applicable to you. Examples of these roles can be Husband, Father, Coach, Runner, Science Fiction Fan, or Hiker. This individual diversity can provide you multiple methods to make connections with personnel. Your personal struggles and triumphs of each of these identities are interwoven with leadership experiences that have shaped you to be the leader you are today. The ability to coach a team speaks to the communication and motivation techniques to lead both small and large teams. The action of clearing your schedule to ensure you are there to videotape your child’s first piano recital at school speaks to the prioritization and time management techniques to make sure you are present for the moments that mean the most. The commitment to organize a team and training schedule for an upcoming obstacle course race shows your project management and creativity of esprit de corps to develop an even stronger team. By blending your approach to off-duty interests into the workplace you become a living definition of “leading by example” by remaining you. This magnetic connection grows even stronger when you are unafraid to share your mistakes and struggles as well. A one-sided story full of only successes can be inspirational for some, but a more balanced perspective that shows you are not immune to and have enough humility to admit your failures can be inspirational to all. No one is perfect; even squadron commanders are human. The totality of your being, to include both your strengths and imperfections, are what you make you unique. You were selected to lead for a reason, so remain YOU.