When I take our dog Sally for long walks in our neighborhood, I started to take an extra bag to pick up trash I see along the way. Fast food containers, cigarette boxes, and plastic water bottles are unfortunately common sights on the main roads. Instead of walking past them, I choose to pick them up and throw them away properly. Not only do I want to do part to take care of our ‘Āina (“land “in Hawaiian), picking up trash is a simple responsibility we can all contribute towards. An even better lesson to learn is to not leave any trash behind for others to pick up for you, and this lesson directly applies to the end of your command tour and setting up your replacement for early success.
Inevitably, you will never have enough time to tackle every issue throughout your command tour. Part of your responsibility is to determine which problems are the most important to fix and which ones may have to be temporarily set aside until time or resources are made available. As the finish line of your command tour creeps closer, you need to determine which problems and projects you need to finish before you reach that line. The objective is to create an on-ramp for your replacement that has a little trash on it as possible, allowing a smooth transition between you two as you take the off-ramp. The most important issues to hand-off to your replacement will be any on-going disciplinary issues that you are unable to finish prior to your departure. Legal proceedings don’t necessarily follow the change of command schedule, which means some cases will have to carry over, but this should be a rare exception. For issues that don’t necessarily meet the level of administrative actions, you and your command team need to work hard and take the appropriate corrective actions to solve an on-going problem. Documented feedback, position re-assignments, and keeping the overall motivation and morale of the squadron should have consistent energy put towards them to minimize waves that seek to bring the team off-course. Again, you won’t be able to finish everything you wanted during your tour, but you need to prepare the squadron for the inevitable change in leadership to allow everyone involved a clean start as possible.
As you determine your list of tasks to finish before stepping down, be cognizant of making decisions that your replacement will have to inherent. Projects and policies that are forced in at the last minute and do not have enough time under your watch to be properly executed may be highly disruptive for the new commander who is trying to execute their own leadership vision for the squadron. When policies are applied last minute with minimal explanation to the squadron, they are often as seen “feathers in the cap” of a leader who is taking actions for themselves vice the team as a whole. If you haven’t developed the proper level of buy-in from your team prior to execution, you shouldn’t take those shots and leave your team to figure it out. Certain decisions should be deliberately left open and handed over from yourself to the new commander to allow them to make and own the entirety of the decision and follow-through. By making the transition as transparent as possible, you are also giving them an early insight into issues that they can possibly achieve an early win. The seamless transition of owning the problem and not letting it weigh down the team will keep the squadron moving forward in the right direction. These issues must be known to the existing squadron leadership team that you are handing these off so that they can assist the new commander as necessary. When everyone is involved in delivering a win, the team will become stronger along the way.
Leaving trash behind, both figurative and literally, is the sign of a weak leader who is not interested in overall team success. You will need to make the right decisions on issues that must be completed under your watch and which ones to handover to your replacement. These decisions will have an impact on the legacy of your command tour, so you must take proper care to analyze and finish the right work and the right time. The finish line of your command tour won’t stop advancing towards you, but the enduring success of the team will be dependent on how clean you leave your path behind you.