Are you on Defense or Offense?

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Towards the end of your tour as squadron commander, another important decision will be laid at your feet that you must deliberately take action on: Defense or Offense? This has nothing to do with the assigned function of your squadron or which side of the football you believe is what champions are built on, but rather the type of attitude you will exude through your actions and leadership. Do you want to be on Defense, meaning you are more conservative in your actions so that you can protect any progress earned towards career advancement? Or are you on Offense, meaning you are still firing on all cylinders to help advance the squadron and place personal achievement on the back burner?

Completing a squadron command tour places you in a unique company. You even have a specific uniform item that separates you from everyone else, demonstrating that you have served in one of the greatest leadership positions that officers strive for. When that time comes for you to move the commander’s badge below your name tag or on the sleeve of your OCP uniform, you will have stepped off one of the greatest stages in your career and will move on to the next opportunity the Air Force needs you to serve at (the change also signifies you “used to be important”, hahaha!). Preserving that honor within your command tour takes on different strategies, such as the choice between Defense and Offense. The Defense-minded leader will be aware of the next chapter and seek to protect themselves from deviating from this path. This protection may take form in taking, or not taking, actions that can jeopardize their standing with their chain of command who is responsible for writing their next evaluation report and recommending if they are ready for future positions of increased responsibility. The intent of Defense may not be spoken out loud literally but can be noticed by your teammates if you become more cautious with your decision making as to not “rock the boat.” You should always be deliberate with your decision making, but if you are not making decisions for fear of losing favor with your chain of command, you are now placing yourself over the success of your squadron. When unchecked, this attitude of Defense can have a tremendous negative impact on your squadron and those who look to you as the epitome of leadership and integrity. 

On the other hand, Offense is more akin to the energy you had at the beginning of your squadron command tour. The guy or gal who was interested in learning the challenges at hand, listening to the recommendations coming from the front lines, and unleashing your Airmen to make truly empowered decisions to drive mission success. You weren’t worried about the next chapter because you were focused on what was immediately in front of you. Your teammates rely on you as the squadron commander to lead boldly and make decisions that may not yield perfect results and may have built-in mistakes from the beginning. More importantly, you are trusting in their leadership and will accept the result no matter how it may affect you or your career. As the kids say these days, you need to Keep That Same Energy. The end of your squadron command tour should not drive you to take any less action than the beginning. Your teammates deserve to have you as their commander over your entire tour, not only when it is convenient for you. That is an Offense-minded leader: one who puts the success of the squadron over the success of themselves. 

As usual, the optimal answer to this choice of attitude lies somewhere in the middle. Human nature in all of us will want a certain degree of Defense applied to protect our careers, yet the overwhelming energy we demonstrate through our actions should lean towards Offense and place the success of the squadron over ourselves. If you get nervous about how your choices may be perceived, that’s probably Defense talking to you. You shouldn’t go rogue with your decisions and leave another mission partner in the dust, but if you need to take a stand for what is right, you should take that stand and stay on Offense. Your career will move forward no matter what, but setting the right example as a leader who maintained their integrity will make a positive impact that will last longer than your command tour. 

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