Eye on the Horizon

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BLUF – Command tours are short. Establish inclusive processes that can capture both your long and short-term guidance so achieving goals and overall team success within your tour stays within reach.  

After the initial storm of taking over command, building relationships with all of the people in your squadron, and earning trust both up and down your chain of command, you will eventually settle in a battle rhythm that seems manageable. You should have a confident understanding of how operations are conducted and how you and the team fit into the larger picture. Even more important, you should have a sense of the strengths and weaknesses throughout the team and will need to leverage the experience and capabilities of your leadership team to develop a strategy that everyone can understand and implement. Your goal should be to get to this point around the 3-month mark, which is when a little over 12% of your command tour will have been completed. 24 months is not a long time in command (even shorter for those one-year gigs), so you need to keep your eye on the horizon and work towards the vision of where you want the squadron to be when you hand over the guide-on.

A classic move is to review and potentially update the squadron’s Mission and Vision statements. Both of these statements have the power to provide focus, inspiration, and point of reference during daily operations. The Mission statement serves as a bold proclamation on how the team executes today, and the Vision statement can be the lofty goal that the team is striving towards. From my perspective, I don’t spend a lot of time on these statements. I barely enough reference them throughout my tour. The reason being is because I believe these statements are just hollow words that don’t truly motivate people like they used to. If you take your function, say Communications, and sprinkle around words such as Excellence, First-Class, Dominant, Warfighting, Mission, Multi-Domain, I-word, or any other trending adjective used in current military affairs, you can build both of your statements. Sometimes people will spend hours during an off-site debating on the order of the words. The drill can certainly be valuable, especially to the small group of individuals who converse and form the final statement. But carrying over the statements into the squadron as an energy that can be quickly actionable is another thing. The squadron writ large doesn’t have the benefit of those conversations, only the end product. The squadron must interpret how each statement applies to them and hopefully, each individual idea not only matches with each statement but also does not intrude on another teammate’s approach to fulfilling the same idea. These challenges can be overcome through strong leadership, but there are other ways to provide focused intent and goals for your squadron over the duration of your tour.

Two products can be used as strategic guidance to shape the remaining 18 months of your command tour: a Concept of Operations document (CONOPS) and an Ops Directive. The CONOPS should be written and/or updated annually that is more expansive than the Vision statement and explains the collection of ideas behind the notional organization that is being developed. If you were to have all of the resources available to you (which will never happen), this is your interpretation of how the squadron should operate. The Ops Directive should be written monthly and serves as guidance as to how the squadron will operate. If you are familiar with an Air Operations Directive that is published out of an Air Operation Center, this follows the same concept, just tailored for your squadron and the flights and work centers within. LInes of Effort and Operation can be further defined here, along with supporting tasks under each line. The drill of defining these tasks brings in even more inputs from the squadron on what everyone should be focused on for the next 30-90 days. You as the commander won’t be building the majority of the Ops Directive; your job is to prioritize the weight of effort under each line. Your front line supervisors and flight leadership know the work that is assigned to them; they need your leadership guidance to rack and stack the priorities so they have the freedom of maneuver and lead their teams to meet your intent. An Ops Directive does not layout work in a sequential manner, but rather provides a list of priorities for the immediate future that the team can focus on and hold them accountable. The process of building and publishing both the CONOPS and the Ops Directive are designed to allow crowdsourced input and focused guidance as an output throughout your command tour. You don’t have to be solely responsible for all of the ideas to drive the squadron to success, but you are responsible for establishing a deliberate and repeatable framework that unleashes the ideas and energy of the squadron.

I’m not going to go all “Doctrine Man” on if the title and intent of each document are correctly being used per official guidance. The point of each document is to serve as the established products that are purposely developed from throughout the squadron. This method allows more conversation and can organically generate buy-in when compared to a leadership offsite. This isn’t to say that everyone will participate in the generation of both products. Like most administrative products that go out for coordination, these products will only have a small number of inputs. More importantly, simply asking for mass participation you are increasing the level of transparency throughout the squadron and offering the opportunity to help define the future. There definitely needs to be a certain amount of top-level guidance to be applied, which is why the initial versions of each document should be written by mostly you and your leadership team. The on-going care and maintenance is also your responsibility if only to ensure the products remain value-added for the squadron at large. These products should be mandatory reading for all, to ensure unity of effort across the board. I’ve even hidden easter eggs in the Ops Directive to see who was actually reading the product. In the end, I had six Airmen compete in a “Golden Ticket” challenge where the winner won a 3-day pass. I had the Airmen asking each other “You didn’t see the commander’s challenge? Why aren’t you reading the Ops Directive?” Peer pressure can sometimes be more effective than pressure from the commander, so why not use that to your advantage? The point is that you have to get creative on how you want to focus the squadron over your command tour towards the goals you set. Don’t think a leadership offsite and a bright and shiny Mission and Vision statement will get the job done, because it won’t. Not only do you need to keep your eye on the horizon, but you also need to bring along everyone else so you can reach the future together.


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