The Es of Effective Leadership

  • Published
  • By Chaplain, (Lt. Col.) Donnette A. Boyd
  • 36th Wing
The Air Force affords us leadership experience and opportunities early in our careers. As a leader, my philosophy revolves around what I refer to as the "Es of effective leadership. " Leaders should Empower, Equip, Encourage, Energize and Expect Excellence from their team.

Empowerment is critical for effective leaders to bestow to the subordinate echelon of leadership. There are several aspects of empowerment that must be addressed. Empowerment entails delegation of authority, responsibility and decision making. An individual who is empowered to accomplish his mission does not need to seek approval regarding areas he is responsible for maintaining. Delegation of decisions provides an individual ownership in their areas of responsibility. Every Airman, even a recent tech school graduate, should be empowered in at least one area of his work environment. His practice and exercise in decision-making will train him for broader responsibilities in the future. Perhaps a new Airman should not be responsible for an entire squadron budget, but he can be responsible for training, oversight of government vehicles or unit safety, just to list a few examples.

Empowerment not only means delegation of responsibility, but includes delegation of authority. The Airman in charge of unit training must be empowered to schedule those who are out of date on their training requirements (regardless of rank). He must be allowed to monitor programs to detect signs of fraud, waste and abuse and must have the authority to report infractions to his supervisors. As leaders, we must empower our Airmen.

The second "E" of effective leadership is Equipping. Those we lead must be equipped with proper resources, training and time to be successful. If we empower, but fail to equip our Airmen, we are set them up for failure. Equipping means we make every effort to ensure that funds, training allocations and equipment are available to accomplish the mission. In this era of manpower and budget cuts, we must strive to ensure that those who lead us are aware of the implications of their decisions on those who follow us.

Equipping not only encompasses equipment. As leaders, we should equip our followers with communication and enough time to accomplish tasks. We should be clear and concise as we communicate our expectations. Initial and mid-term feedbacks are the minimum standard. Constant feedback with kudos and improvements should be conveyed on a regular basis. Of course, we try to praise publicly and admonish privately. There are, however, occasional situations were issues must be openly addressed. We must monitor the percentages of praise and admonishment we divvy out. I've found it more productive to praise far more than I admonish.

We must equip our teams with reasonable and obtainable timeframes. Arbitrary suspenses and immediate expectations on routine needs will only frustrate our teams and decrease morale. Occasionally, when we receive the inevitable due yesterday tasker, a staff that is routinely equipped with ample time will respond with a sense of urgency--not treating their leader like the boy who cried wolf. Equipping goes hand-in-hand with empowering, they are vital to a team's mission success.

The next responsibility of a leader is to Encourage their team. Individuals in the Air Force are well educated, internally motivated and usually inspired by our core values. It is typically not difficult to encourage a trained and internally-motivated team. Using a football analogy; once we've empowered our team to be on the playing field and equipped them with adequate training, we simply encourage them towards the end zone with our yells along the sideline. Even a team that is down during halftime must feel a sense of hope for the remainder of the game. Our teams must believe they are capable of winning; otherwise they would forfeit the game. We as leaders must see the potential in our winning teams. Encouragement must not only be divvied out to the entire team, but must be given on an individual basis. The team is most effective when each member believes in their own ability to advance the ball towards the goal.

The next "E" that we must practice as leaders is to Energize our team. Energizing them entails ensuring that they are given enough time to recharge their batteries. We energize them by encouraging them to have daily physical training, take leave to include at least one 2-week vacation each year and not have lunch at their desk on a routine basis. Individuals who take enough time to take care of themselves are more energized to accomplish their missions. Most leaders have experienced burn-out at some point in their careers. If we were not rescued by the occasional PCS (of our supervisors or ourselves) we would have remained in that state. Since we know how burnout feels, we also know how to recognize it in others and what to do to avoid it happening to our subordinates.

When our Airmen return from deployment it is critical that they receive ample reintegration time to reconnect with their families and defuse from the combat zones. After my recent deployment to Kandahar, I returned physically, emotionally and spiritually drained. My wing commander allowed me to take an unprecedented 38 days of leave. This time off was an investment that paid dividends upon my return. I came back physically, emotionally and spiritually recharged and eager to get back to work.

Another way to energize our teams is with humor, team building and activities in which we include our families. Whether it's a staff picnic or playing Xbox Rock Band during a stand down day, we must spend time laughing and relaxing with our teammates. Humor is not only energizing, but is vital to our emotional survival.

My final "E" is actually a pair of Es--Expect Excellence. After we have successfully Empowered, Equipped, Encouraged and Energized our teams, we can expect excellence, knowing that they are now capable of excelling at every task. Expecting excellence means not only expecting the best from them, but holding them accountable when they fail to meet standards. Excellence is the embodiment of our core values; Integrity first, Service before self and Excellence in all we do. I expect that integrity is a baseline standard for every Airman in our personal and professional lives. Lack of integrity diminishes trust, jeopardizes our mission and demoralizes our team. Expecting integrity not only means holding individuals accountable, but leading the way in those grey areas; always ensuring that the team understands our stance of doing everything above board with no hint of compromising our integrity.

Expecting excellence entails service before self; working late when needed, going the extra mile for those we serve and following through on tasks to ensure completion. Service before self includes doing things that may not be in our job description and volunteering to help those who may not be a member of our unit. I expect each customer to be treated with the same courtesy and respect afforded any distinguished guest. Excellence in all we do is a standard I set for myself as well as those I lead. Excellence does not mean we are perfect, but we strive to do our best in all things. A team that strives for excellence is satisfied with nothing less.