The phrase “military service” inherently means that no matter what position you hold, you will always be working for someone. Who will be working for someone. Who will be…you get the idea. Even the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, the highest position an officer can attain, reports to both the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Air Force. As a squadron commander, you have the unique opportunity to accomplish the mission and lead the Airmen entrusted to your care, but the mission will be tied to a larger picture you must ensure your personnel understand and, more importantly, believe in. By accomplishing strategic alignment early in your command tour, you will be able to strengthen the connection your Airmen have to the mission and towards each other.
To be sure, strategic alignment doesn’t mean a simple “copy/paste” of your higher headquarters mission or vision statement, adding your squadron’s function to the sentence, then calling it a day. Strategic alignment also doesn’t mean pulling a Leroy Jenkins and taking off before your squadron is ready to follow you. As squadron commander, your job is to facilitate a discussion of strategic alignment, define the final version of this alignment, and then ensure the squadron at large only accomplishes work within this alignment. I say discussion at the beginning because you should not conduct this exercise alone, but rather with your team of trusted leaders within the squadron. This could comprise your usual list of suspects in leadership positions, but could also include other influential personalities to offer additional inputs. This “Brain Trust” will be crucial in developing the strategic alignment for your squadron, both initially and throughout your tour. Before you get to that point, there are some key pieces of guidance you will have to find. These pieces aren’t conveniently located in one document or website, so you’ll have to perform the task so common in adventure video games: complete the journey to find pieces spread out across a huge landscape and combine them to unlock something greater. Here is the list of items you must find:
- National Defense Strategy
- National Security Strategy
- Air Force Strategy Documents
- Strategic guidance from your Major Command (MAJCOM)
- Strategic guidance from your functional community
- Strategic guidance from your wing commander
This list may seem overwhelming or bloated, but to me, this is the minimum level of homework you must read either before taking command or within the first month of taking command. These items may also take various forms, such as a formally published document, policy letter, or a presentation given at an event such as the Air, Space, and Cyber Conference. Your job throughout your command is to seek to understand, also known as habit 5 from Franklin Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. As you ingest all of the information listed above, you should be figuring out how to connect the dots from those words to the actions taken every day within your squadron. This is not an easy drill but is extremely important.
Fortunately, you don’t have to tackle this challenge alone. Sketch out your initial thoughts of strategic alignment and assemble your “Brain Trust” to review and contribute to the process. This process isn’t at the phase of you issuing guidance or publishing orders, but rather in building consensus and a shared sense of purpose. As previously mentioned, you must ensure the “Brain Trust” believes in the strategic alignment because they will be the ones championing your intent on the front lines. Without their buy-in, you’ll be trying to shoulder all of the work of explaining strategic alignment alone and you will get buried by the weight. In addition, you must spend the time to ensure there is a connective thread that can be understood at all levels within the squadron. Being an effective communicator is crucial to a successful command tour, and there is no cookie-cutter solution that works for every squadron. Inevitably you must choose the method of communication to articulate your vision of strategic alignment. I highly recommend having both a published document for everyone to reference and delivering a spoken version to allow two-way conversations that can enhance understanding. The document can be the in-depth version of the strategic alignment, but always have a simple visual that summarizes the idea as a whole. Strategic alignment is not an easy task to accomplish but is critical for building buy-in and understanding within your squadron.