BLUF – Expand your leadership outside of your squadron by following passions you already have. Both you and your community will benefit from your contribution.
Demonstrating your leadership skills outside of your assigned squadron is a great way to enhance a successful command tour and build your network of teammates around the base. This might seem counterintuitive at first glance, but the idea is an underlying expectation throughout the career of an officer. You may recognize the idea as “Whole Airmen Concept.” You might be thinking, “Why should I look for more work when I have an actual day job as a squadron commander?” The answer is simple: leaders don’t walk past problems they can help fix. When you are a squadron commander, you have the built-in position of authority to greatly influence positive change over masses. Obviously, you have to prove your mettle and put the work in towards your primary job as squadron commander, but the additional leadership you can bring to your community will benefit yourself and the team at large. By strategically selecting and working hard on projects outside of your squadron, you will continue to grow as a leader and deliver positive effects for everyone involved.
Up front, you need to pick something before something is picked for you. Sometimes you will be volun-told to be project lead (like my selection as lead for the Secretary of the Air Force visit to the base), but I would highly recommend you choose a subject or issue you already have interest in. What are some of the leadership interests you are passionate about sharing and developing skillsets in others? I have two interests that I have found consistent opportunities to join local efforts at every duty location: Fitness and Leadership Development. I search out for these efforts early in my duty tour to get the lay of the land and find my way in. If there is a clear lead for a project, approach them and ask to join the team. Leadership development is a line of effort that can be traced to Force Support and the Professional Military Education Center on base, so I made early connections with leadership on those teams to offer my assistance. The Company Grade Officer Council (CGOC) is another known group at any given base, so I reached out to their staff to see what I could contribute. In both instances, they were surprised that a squadron commander approached them to provide assistance. Normally the interaction is the other way around. Your assistance can be provided in general or something specific. For instance, ask if there any squadron commander panels that you can join in on. These panels are common during local PME courses as well as within the membership of the CGOC, so you can volunteer your time to a known event. I’ve sat on many of these panels and genuinely enjoy the conversation and learning points (both ways!) offered in a non-attributional environment. If you are confident, you can also offer a specific subject matter within the line of effort to tackle. As the local Force Support squadron developed their Flight Leadership course, I offered to teach a one hour course on time management. I knew the subject would be of interest, so I reached out early to offer my help. After reading some of the student comments during their initial class, I found out my course was the highest-rated and nominated to continue in the curriculum. Not bad! By reaching out to existing teams and providing your assistance in a subject you are already passionate about, you are demonstrating the level of leadership needed by squadron commanders in that you are more than just your assigned function. You are a leader who is interested in developing others so that they can excel at their assigned function and making an overall stronger team.
My passion for fitness also is a common outlet I find during my command tour. Fun fact: I have served as a CrossFit Affiliate Manager/Head Coach/Trainer during both of my squadron command tours. Some people didn’t even realize I was a commander until we showed up a meeting together! I usually start as a participant in the normal classes (if they exist), but eventually, I’ll ask if I can offer my assistance in a leadership capacity that their team needs. Most military CrossFit affiliates are pure volunteer efforts, so my offer is rarely turned down. Again, I initially ask to provide help where they need it, not necessarily on what I want to provide. Once you have proven yourself, you can then offer more assistance. By serving as a fitness trainer, I get to meet all kinds of people. Some of them I have duty-related connections, some of them I have none at all. Regardless, I use fitness as the unifying theme to get to know people locally and understand even more about opportunities I can be of assistance. As we all get to know each other, opportunities may pop up where you get informed of problems or issues on base you wouldn’t necessarily hear through your position as squadron commander. I’m not talking about actively participating in gossip, but rather informing people with objective information to help others understand. For example, gate construction and operating hours were emotional topics at my last base. If a gate closed, people reacted like their birthday was being taken away. Those frustrations were discussed prior to our fitness classes, and I offered up the reasoning and decision making processes I was privy to as a squadron commander. The discussions didn’t make them happier about the closures, but at least they understood. I wouldn’t have this opportunity if I didn’t reach out to volunteer as a CrossFit trainer. Being a leader doesn’t require you to come from a position of authority. You only need to have an interest in delivering positive contributions when the opportunities present themselves.
You will need to work hard to integrate external leadership opportunities into your command tour. If you strategically pick subjects you are already interested in, the integration can be seamless. Find opportunities to be a good follower and integrate into existing efforts. Demonstrate that you can effectively blend all of your efforts into a cohesive squadron command tour that includes leadership from multiple angles. The positive effects you deliver outside of your squadron are an important factor of your command tour, so align them early on to shape success for everyone.