BLUF – If you aren’t leading boldly…you aren’t unleashing the true power of the opportunity bestowed upon you.
On a USAF Officer Mentorship Forum on Facebook, the moderator posted the following question: What is the purpose of command? As I wind down on the last days of my command tour, I’ve had the same (amongst others) question on my mind. I quickly posted the following response:
Be an (not the) example of genuine and authentic leadership, not just another cog with a different face/name. Inspire and earn trust from the people you are charged to lead, your peers who depend on you to get THEIR mission done, and challenge leadership thoughts to even greater heights. If you aren’t leading boldly…you aren’t unleashing the true power of the opportunity bestowed upon you.
I started the day with my family running errands and ended the day hiking April Bowl at Hatcher’s Pass with the wifey, so I had more time to think about the question and how I wanted to expand on my initial response.
- Be an (not the) example of genuine and authentic leadership, not just another cog with a different face/name – The moderator who posted the question also posted this within his response: “The role of the commander is to be the institution for our fellow Airmen.” I understand the point he was trying to make, but I disagree with the way he worded his response. To be the institution sounds so impractical and impersonal. The be the institution sounds like someone who is potentially blind to advancement because they are stuck in tradition and “the way things are done around here” and miss out on the brilliant creativity that makes us uniquely Airmen. I also believe the phrase only allows commanders to be infallible and non-capable of making mistakes. This is so far from the truth. We are human just like everyone else, and our flaws are what helps us stay grounded. If you have the awareness to recognize your flaws and the humility to ask for feedback or assistance, I believe you’ll have a better chance of making genuine connections with your squadron teammates that can strengthen their belief in your leadership. The diversity of our service allows every leader who has earned the privilege of squadron command to lead in their unique method that has been shaped by the Air Force, yet allows individual interpretation to apply their unique stamp on the squadron.
- Inspire and earn trust from the people you are charged to lead… – In my leadership philosophy speech, I say that “actions speak louder than words.” I use this phrase as a sort of a promise to everyone in the squadron: hearing me talk about my philosophy is one thing, but you will see me act on these words: Accountability, Blend, Character, #DBAA. Every squadron commander will have their own leadership philosophy, but can personnel within their squadron trace all of their commander’s actions to their philosophy? Only be following through on your words with action can you earn trust. And I’m not talking about surface level trust within a workplace; I’m talking about the deep level of trust needed in the profession of arms. Even if you make mistakes along the way, trust can be maintained by admitting fault and explaining your intentions when appropriate. Your purpose as a commander is to inspire your personnel to believe in themselves and build strong teammates around you that will continue to build even stronger teammates.
- Your peers who depend on you to get THEIR mission done… – While the original question is aimed at the purpose of a commander, the Air Force is a team sport. Your success as a commander is based on how you can make other mission partners successful. When a fellow commander reaches out to you, your attention to that communication should be treated with more urgency than most. I’m not saying drop everything to answer their question, nor am I saying give any fellow commander what they ask for. However, a prompt reply that you will get back to them is a professional courtesy you should extend as you are in a position to cut the red tape and get something moving that is probably stuck due to a misunderstanding. In addition, your fellow squadron commanders should recognize and trust you as the subject matter expert of your given function, yet can also be a source of counsel for the myriad of situations you must deal with as commanders. This counsel should serve as just that, counsel, not answers. The core of your job as an officer and a commander is to make decisions, and these decisions must be your own.
- Challenge leadership thoughts to even greater heights. – I believe every commander has blind spots throughout their tour. The span of responsibility grows at every echelon as well, which further increases these blind spots. As a squadron commander, you are in a unique position to offer inputs to these blind spots as well as candid feedback on the implementation of your group and wing commander’s vision and intent. This feedback is invaluable in improving mission execution and lethality. Professional deliberation can illuminate both sides of a conversation and allow more efficient progression, but you will miss out on these opportunities if you stay silent and let them pass you by. Find the right timing and forum to challenge your leadership’s thoughts. When executed correctly, the entire team will benefit.
- If you aren’t leading boldly…you aren’t unleashing the true power of the opportunity bestowed upon you. – During my exit interview last week, my wing commander asked if I had any regrets over my command tour. I thought for about 6.73 seconds and replied, “No ma’am. Even through all of the mistakes I made. Those mistakes were made for a reason, and I believe I learned from them and hopefully became a better leader an officer.” By no means do I believe I led a perfect command tour, but my intentions were always true to myself and what I believed was right within the given situation. Again, your job is to make decisions. Over time you will learn which choices are the better ones to make, but making mistakes even as a squadron commander is important. Remember, mistakes are often in the eye of the beholder. Others may see my choices as mistakes, while others may applaud or imitate my choices. As long as you take ownership of your actions, learn, and adapt, you will continue to harness the power of your tour as squadron commander.