From the day you take the guidon as the new commander to the day you pass it on to your replacement, you will have the attention of your entire squadron. This level of experience will be unmatched throughout the rest of your career. The amount of influence and freedom of maneuver you have to make a positive impact on the mission and the people that support that mission should never be lost on you during your command tour. From military to civilian, you will be seen as the beacon of leadership that sets the tone and personality of the squadron. If you exude characteristics such as stubbornness to listen, deflection of responsibility, and a selfish mindset, don’t be surprised if you see the same reflected in your teammates. However, if you lead with the example of compassion, determination, and an overall team mindset, your squadron will unlock the confidence they have inside of them and become stronger both individually and as a team. Indeed, if you take care of the people, the mission will take care of itself.
As brand new Airmen joined our squadron, I shared that I wanted their experience to set the standard for the remainder of the career. Doesn’t matter if that career ended up being four or thirty years; I wanted to develop a culture where people felt proud of their contributions, where they could lean on each other through the hard times, share laughs, and learn more about they are capable of doing then previously thought. Shaping this type of environment will take deliberate thought and more energy than you have on your own, which is why you need to work with your squadron to make this vision a reality. When your squadron shares the responsibility of shaping the future, the culture will become what it needs to be.
Serving as a squadron commander is a unique opportunity you will cherish as a memory unlike anything else. You will never be truly prepared for the responsibility, and even the words and advice shared throughout this book don’t contain answers for every challenge you’ll encounter. Don’t worry, you’ll find answers along the way. You’re not better than anyone, you just happen to have the right set of skills aligned to an opportunity. But those skills must continue to grow throughout your squadron command tour, along with developing the skills of the rest of your teammates to become even better leaders. The only kind of win that matters is one you can all share and truly be a part of.
Your experience as a squadron commander will be the most powerful opportunity you have to shape the next generation of leaders. Not only will you impact the time you spend together, but all of the time after that as well. The following was a message sent to me after I completed my second squadron command tour. These words serve as a reminder to me and a heads up to you on how much of an impact you can have on our Airmen.
“Thank you. Thank you for not being like the rest of the Air Force. Thank you for giving airmen a chance to do something good. Thank you for not seeing airmen as children but instead as adults with ideas and capabilities. I’m no longer in the world’s greatest Air Force but I will always remember my experience and be appreciative to you for the opportunities you provided. You’re one of the few who I found to be genuine and who truly cared about the people. I joined to help people and to make a difference in the world and just because I’m no longer an Airman doesn’t mean I can’t still do those things. I just wanted to express my gratitude and to tell you to keep it up. You’re doing a great job. Good luck with all of your future endeavors.”
Squadron command is never about you, but about shaping the next generation of leaders. You have twenty-four months to get that right. No pressure…but don’t fuck this up.