BLUF – Your journey as squadron commander does not have to be a solo adventure. You are in unique company to other chosen leaders that have the opportunity to rise to even greater achievements.
The Fellowship of Squadron Commanders is a unique group of leaders you will have the opportunity to join. All of you have a proven performance record and have been chosen by your functional community to lead what most officers strive for since taking the oath of office. When properly used, this peer group can be a consistent resource of advice and support throughout your tour. The utility of this resource is dependent on how you initially and consistently interact with the group. Like most groups, you can only control your actions and responses to the actions of others, so being a positive member of the group is crucial to not only your success but the success of your peers and execution of the mission.
In general, there are two types of squadron commanders: those who are in competition with each other, and those who are not. This situation is very similar to your classmates at any given Professional Military Education school, with the award of Distinguished Graduate being the achievement that some may be actively competing for. You may recall the actions of those who are obviously striving for this achievement: boasting of accomplishments, saying underhanded negative thoughts of others, and generally being interested in self-advancement only. You may also recall how annoying these classmates are and how they have the high potential of creating a rift within the flight. Healthy competition is one thing, but actions taken at the expense of others should be minimized as much as possible. Your job isn’t to stand out from your peers. Instead, you should find ways to help them perform even better. Your leadership has the task to distinguish any top performers, not you. Actions taken at the expense of your peers will be noticed and will damage your reputation as a team player. Strive to remove any negative competitive energy within the Fellowship of Squadron Commanders. There is a time and place for healthy competition, but that usually involves the entirety of your squadron for pride and morale. Competition between individual squadron commanders can be detrimental to everyone involved, so take the opportunity to set the tone of an inclusive team focused on making each other better.
Direct communication between squadron commanders for mission-related reasons should be treated differently compared to the rest of the noise of the day. The caveat to this statement is that one uses direct communication responsibly. Up front, make your communication known early if you asking for a favor or clarification, as these are two distinct types of communications. Clarification conversations shouldn’t have any time constraints associated. These conversations are valuable in learning why certain processes and regulations exist and can help manage expectations towards mission execution. They can also serve as a starting point to connect action officers for follow-up. By first seeking to understand, you will build a positive working relationship for not only yourself, but for your squadron as well. Calling on a fellow squadron commander for a favor to help expedite a process is not out of the ordinary, but be sure to respect their equities and functional expertise. First, ensure your team has exhausted all resources available and your team is truly at a mission stand-still without commander intervention. You do not want to be known “that commander” that calls out for help when your team hasn’t even attempted to put work in. Even one instance of asking for this type of favor can put all future favors into question, so ensure all of your bases are covered before asking for assistance. Asking for a favor doesn’t mean you get to skip the process everyone else must follow. You might be able to skip ahead in line, but understand you are still beholden to why the line exists in the first place. There is nothing wrong with constructive criticism, but too much can leave a negative impression and reduce the likelihood of future favors. Once the task is completed, be sure to thank everyone involved. By explaining how your team’s mission execution improved and recognizing by name those who assisted your situation, you will build social equity as a grateful teammate. In addition, recognize you should owe a similar favor to your fellow squadron commander. If the same rules of engagement are used, the team at large will have overall better mission execution and increased networking at multiple levels. Action officers will have more “I know a guy/gal who can help” moments and even potentially reduce the amount of asking for squadron commander support. When used responsibly, direct communications between squadron commanders can unlock efficiencies for yourself and your squadron.
Work aside, your fellow squadron commanders also serves as the default social circle you can circumnavigate. All of you will share experiences that are unique to your position, of which you can ask for advice and perspective. These interactions don’t have to be squarely conducted in a work transaction. A bi-weekly lunch is a great way to have a consistent opportunity to meet up with your fellow squadron commanders and talk about…whatever. This is a great opportunity to learn more about your peers and shared interests: schools for your children, babysitters, restaurants, gyms, etc. A skilled squadron commander can freely weave in and out of work and social conversations that are inclusive to allow everyone to participate in, no matter where they come from. This event can also be used as an immediate crowdsource of information for any squadron commander situations you are going through. Discipline actions, squadron policies and programs, and any other subjects can be openly discussed for advice and debate. Similar to direct communication, these conversations should be used responsibly. Any decision you make will still be your decision, no matter what opinions are shared amongst your peers. Regardless, having a trusted circle of peers for both work and non-work related conversations is a great resource to have access to throughout your commander tour. If this event doesn’t exist at your base, I highly recommend you start one. Pick a location that is convenient for access and time. Apply friendly amounts of peer pressure to participate, but understand that the event will be there for those who are available. Squadron command can sometimes be lonely but remember you’re never alone.
The Fellowship of Squadron Commanders can forge relationships that can assist you throughout your command tour and beyond. You are truly amongst a select number of proven leaders that have been charged with leading the men and women to defend the nation. You also have the opportunity to advance mission execution and bring diverse mission partners together unlike anyone else. Similar to Lord of the Rings, while this fellowship may not have been initially shaped by your hands, you have the opportunity to make your Fellowship of Squadron Commanders a strength you can consistently rely on.