By Maj. Daniel Olson, 14th Flying Training Wing Judge Advocate
/ Published July 20, 2007
COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
As the PCS season wraps up, many commanders, first sergeants and supervisors find themselves immersed in formal leadership positions for the first time in their careers. Similarly, many seasoned leaders find themselves in charge of new and unfamiliar organizations; they've led before, but face new challenges in new arenas.
I fit squarely in the first category. As a new Staff Judge Advocate, I lead a base legal office for the first time. The Air Force didn't send me in unprepared, though, because our leadership training is a first-class constant. As a result, most Airmen, from first-time supervisors to veteran commanders, have developed, at some level, a personal leadership philosophy. This approach is often intuitive - the result of periodic training mixed with hands-on experience, but never written down or formalized.
Assuming any new job, though, presents a golden opportunity to clarify your leadership perspective. My new assignment has forced me to slow down and think about effective leadership, and here I offer my approach. In keeping with lawyerly tradition, I also offer some caveats. First, my thoughts serve only as an oversimplified starting point. Second, as with most leadership commentaries, use what's helpful, discard what's not, and adapt as necessary.
With the summer moving season drawing to a close, now's the perfect time to:
See. Find time to close your eyes, block out distractions, and envision the end-state you'd like to see in six months; in one year; and in three years when PCS approaches. Obviously, this is nothing more than goal setting, and both research and common sense tell us that goals - goals that are challenging yet realistic, specific and measurable - are an invaluable leadership tool. Take the time to formulate organizational goals. Figuring out exactly where you want to go is the first step in any journey.
Sell. Next, do everything you can to get people excited about achieving these goals. After all, if no one particularly cares about the goals you've set, what chance is there of accomplishment? Take time to make organizational goals clear, and thoroughly explain the reasoning behind these goals. Better yet, include your Airmen in step one: when people play a role in establishing organizational goals, and when they understand the "why" behind these goals, they become directly invested in achievement. When Airmen are energized toward organizational goals, they won't let you down.
Solve. Chances are that a number of obstacles stand between you and your goals: short staffing; limited funds; legal hurdles; technical difficulties; and so on. Take time to identify the discrete problems standing in your way - and solve them. Easier said than done, I know. But use brainstorming sessions, higher headquarters, reservists, reach back, helping agencies, technology, innovation, back-breaking hard work and any other problem-solving techniques you can muster. Bottom line: Airmen will figure out how to get your organization where it needs to go.
Supply. Having identified solutions, next ensure that your people have the training, equipment, time, supplies, and other resources they need to get the job done. Let's face it, at some point in your career, you've been given a task but no training; you've been given a project but inadequate resources - and it frustrated you endlessly. Don't let that happen to your Airmen. If you give Airmen the right tools, they'll get things done.
Steer. I'm not an idealist. Of course unexpected bills will eat up your funds and solutions won't work as planned. So, as a leader, review your goals, obstacles, and solutions frequently - and adjust accordingly. Maybe your goals were unrealistic - or maybe they were too easy. Maybe a problem has gone away or, more likely, a new, unforeseen problem has made an old problem seem easy. Or, just maybe, things have worked out perfectly. In any case, never underestimate the value of periodic review, to include soliciting positive and negative feedback. Don't blindly stick with a plan that's not quite right. Even the best-laid plans will need periodic adjustment.
Share. Finally, when things go right, when you meet that goal, share credit, rewards and appreciation. Make time for thank-you notes and letters of appreciation, and don't forget about people in other organizations that have helped along the way. Recognize people publicly at a luncheon or commander's call. Use quarterly awards, passes, and off-sites. Simply put, let people know how much they've meant using any of the many Air Force recognition programs available. Remember, a little fun once in a while goes a long way.
You've undoubtedly heard of most of these steps, in one form or another, through your careers, and you know that I've said nothing new. In fact, I could certainly learn a thing or two about leadership from my staff and from any member of the BLAZE Team. But PCS season is winding down, and at some level, we're all leaders adapting to new challenges. Take advantage of this unique time to reflect on your leadership philosophy, and think about how you're going to lead your organization into the future.