COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
By the time this article is printed, I will have been the commander of the 14th Student Squadron here at Columbus for two years and one month, and I will be less than three weeks away from handing over the squadron flag to the next squadron commander. It seems to me that there is no better time for me to share what I learned over the past two years than while most of it is still fresh in my mind. However, since the editors have asked that I limit the length of this article, I will stick to what are, to me, the most important lessons.
Being the commander of a squadron has been the most rewarding experience of my Air Force career. Every day I get to lead, mentor, support and help those who I have been entrusted to command. Looking back over my own Air Force career, however, this has, in some way, been one of the first jobs I’ve had where doing all those things was essentially part of the job description. I was never a flight commander, never the NCO in charge of a shop, never a section lead or even a senior airman supervising an airman first class. But the lessons I want to share most are ones that I feel apply to all those leadership positions just as much as they apply to commanding a squadron.
The first and foremost lesson in my mind is to listen. Listen to what those who you are privileged to serve as a supervisor have to say. Listen to their ideas. Listen to their concerns. And, listen to their needs. Having been in this job for two years, I got very comfortable with ‘the way we do things around here.’ Be sure to listen especially to those new to your section, shop or flight. They are seeing things through fresh eyes, and they’ve probably got some good ideas on how things might be done better, more efficiently or maybe even more correctly. Listen to the concerns of those entrusted to your leadership, for often times, you may have experienced the same concern at some point in your career and may be able to provide some key mentorship. And listen to their needs. As the leader of Airmen, even if right now it’s only one or a couple Airmen, you may hold the key to taking care of an issue for them that they are not able to fix themselves.
The second lesson I learned that I would like to share is to care. This goes hand-in-hand with listening, but it takes it one step further. We all have an endless number of distractions in our lives and we all have our own tasks to accomplish and suspenses to meet. But when one of your Airmen comes to talk to you, whenever possible, try to put your own distractions and/or tasks aside and really listen. Then, engage with the person. Don’t be in a hurry to get back to what you were doing. Most of that other stuff can wait when you have the opportunity to address a concern or a need or provide mentorship to that Airman. And then, follow through. If you say you will look into something, or ask a question up the chain on their behalf, or take care of a problem for them – do it. They are counting on you. And often times, if you don’t do those things for them, especially things they might not be able to do for themselves, no one else will.
The final lesson I’ll share is to lead the way you want to be led. This actually takes a concerted effort on your part, because sometimes the way you would like to be led may not be the easiest way to get the job done or it may be uncomfortable. For example, simply providing your Airman with a task to accomplish and letting them figure out how they want to go about it may be uncomfortable from a supervisor perspective – not knowing if they’ll do it exactly right the first time, or exactly the way you would have done it. But I believe that is how most of us would prefer to be led. To be trusted to get the job done right without constant supervision.
Hopefully I learned much more than just these three things after two years of being a squadron commander. And I can assure you, I have. But I believe if you take to heart these three things, you will get much more out of every opportunity that you have during your own Air Force career to lead and serve those entrusted to you.