Leaders: the Air Force's most important resource

  • Published
  • By Maj. Hollis Payne
  • 36th Munitions Squadron commander
America recently remembered the 9/11 anniversary - a day in our history that tragically changed the United States and arguably the entire World - I would like to discuss a requirement critical to our future.

Sept. 11 marked a momentous change in what we expect and require from our Nation's leaders; from strategic planners at the White House, to general officers in the field down to the NCOs and Airmen in shops and sections -- we ,now more than ever, desperately need leadership! Leadership is the key to our country maintaining a strong defense and the ultimately winning the war against terror!

AFDD 1.1 defines leadership as the art and science of influencing and directing people to accomplish the assigned mission. This highlights two fundamental elements of leadership: (1) the mission, objective, or task to be accomplished and (2) the people who accomplish it. All facets of leadership should support these two basic elements. It is important to note that Leadership doesn't equal command, but all commanders should be leaders. However, not being a commander does not mean you can sit back and leave "the leadership" to others in today's military. The vast majority of AF leaders are not commanders; they are individuals who step forward to lead others in accomplishing the mission, simultaneously serving as both leaders and followers at every level. From young Airmen who work in maintenance shops, to captains in wing staff positions, to civilians at supply agencies, to generals at the Pentagon, leaders can positively influence their entire organization without necessarily being in a formal command position.

Today's Air Force leader's primary responsibility is to motivate and direct people to successfully carry out the unit's mission. To do so they must never forget the importance of their people's role in supporting the mission.

Former, Secretary of State and Chairmen of the Joint Chief's of Staff, Gen (retired) Colin Powell provided his own definition of leadership, as he put it: "Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible."

The essence of bona fide leadership rests with those who have the fortitude to step forward directing people to succeed in accomplishing the mission in places never visited, all the while obtaining more from their followers than those followers believed they could possibly produce. Brig Gen Owens' vision for the 36th Wing will produce an end-state in which Team Andersen will be a superior warfighting platform, ready to meet any contingency. A key element that will support the accomplishment of this goal will be finding some courageous leaders at all levels within our organization to help get us there.

Former Chief of Staff, USAF, General (retired) Ronald Fogleman stated, "Good leaders are people who have a passion to succeed... To become successful leaders, we must first learn that no matter how good the technology or how shiny the equipment, people-to-people relations get things done in our organizations. People are the assets that determine our success or failure. If you are to be a good leader, you have to cultivate your skills in the arena of personal relations."

The first step in becoming an effective leader in today's environment of doing more with less due to force shaping, aging equipment and Congressional resource constraints, is to understand the task you need to accomplish and the required end-state. It will often appear that you can't always get there, but effective leaders can usually accomplish the impossible and beat the odds by developing creative solutions and then successfully motivating their people to action! Again, I emphasize that people are the heart of an organization and without their actions a unit will fail to achieve its objectives. A leader's responsibilities must include the care, support, and development of a unit's Airmen. (An Airman is any USAF member, officer or enlisted; active, reserve, or guard; and Department of AF civilians.) If you take a moment and look around, you will usually find that successful leaders have continually ensured that the essential needs of their Airmen are met promptly and properly. A true leader understands the motto, "Mission First, People Always!"

In my opinion, leadership is founded on three fundamental components: core values, competencies and actions. Leaders apply these components equally at all levels. AF core values are the values we must demand of all our Airmen. Service Before Self, Excellence in All We Do, and Integrity First must be a standard we all live by, not just used as a slogan. Competencies are the occupational skill sets and enduring leadership capabilities that AF leaders should develop as they ascend to echelons of increased responsibility. Actions are the steps leaders MUST take to get things done -- without action, nothing gets accomplished. You can't just think, plan or dream about it...you MUST do it!

At the heart of our AF core values is the most important quality for an effective leader...integrity! Integrity is the single most important part of character. It makes Airmen who they are and what they stand for and is just as important to their professional reputation as their ability to fly or fix jets, run computer network, repair the runway, or defend an airbase. [Not sure you need the next two definitions...] Integrity is the ability to hold together and properly regulate all the elements of one's personality. A person of integrity acts on conviction, demonstrating impeccable self-control without acting rashly.

General (retired) Charles Gabriel, former Chief of Staff; USAF made the following statement, "Integrity is the fundamental premise for military in a free society. Without integrity, the moral pillars of our military strength, public trust and self-respect are lost."

So, how do I become a better leader within the 36th Wing? To improve on our leadership abilities, you must accept leadership challenges. Yes, I know we have all heard, "don't volunteer for things, because that just leads to more work." Leaders, to misquote a famous saying, are made, not born. A perfect opportunity available to most airman are the volunteer positions found within the base and the community. Accept the challenges to serve as the President of the CGOC, Top 3, Network 56, Airmen's Council etc., these are test beds for future AF senior leaders.

"I've discovered that the difference between a good unit and poor unit is fundamentally leadership." General (retired) Ronald Fogleman

Let me summarize my thoughts on leadership. Our world has changed--probably in ways that we have yet to fully understand. One thing that's clear, though, is that our various enterprises, both public and private, will need strong and effective leaders to move forward. The AF desperately needs leaders at all levels and in all positions for it to be successful today and into the future. Leaders must lead. A leader must have confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He or she does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the quality of their actions and the integrity of their intent. An effective leader is not satisfied with only knowing how to do what will get the organization through today; they must also be concerned about what the organization will need for the future. True leaders seek out opportunities; they're always looking to increase their professional knowledge and skills. Herre are a few sources I have found useful on leadership:

Books on leadership:
1. What Leaders Really Do, by John P. Kotter 2. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, by John C. Maxwell 3. Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell, by Oren Harari 4. Taking Charge, A Practical Guide for Leaders by Perry Smith

General Powell's Rules:
1. It ain't as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.
2. Get mad, then get over it.
3. Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.
4. It can be done!
5. Be careful what you choose. You may get it.
6. Don't let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.
7. You can't make someone else's choices. You shouldn't let someone else make yours.
8. Check small things.
9. Share credit.
10. Remain calm. Be kind.
11. Have a vision. Be demanding.
12. Don't take counsel of your fears or naysayers.
13. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.

Many officers and noncommissioned officers have the attitude of "Don't do as I do, do as I say. This type is not a leader. Men look to their leader for their model. A leader sets the proper example. Do everything you can to increase the personal pride of your men by example. Cleanliness, neatness, and orderliness are evidence of personal pride. Proud outfit is a good outfit.
Lt Gen M.S Eddy, USA