Know your Airmen

  • Published
  • By Col. Allan Day
  • 22nd Maintenance Group commander
"Know your men, know your business, know yourself," said Major C. A. Bach, addressing the Graduating Officers of the Second Training Camp at Fort Sheridan, Jan. 27, 1918.

Major Bach presented a speech on leadership to officers heading into an uncertain future defined by war and trials of many kinds, and focused on these three tenets of leadership. The message still applies today. As leaders at every level, we must know the Airmen who are under our headship, we must gain their respect by knowing our craft well and we must understand our true self. These fundamental principles are at the heart of leadership.

Know your Airmen
Knowing your Airmen begins with a genuine desire to care. A famous axiom states that your Airmen won't care how much you know until they know how much you care. Do you know why your Airmen come to work each day? What motivates them? What are their strengths and weaknesses? I am not speaking about Airmen in general, but your Airmen specifically. If you don't know, ask them.

You may find that one of your Airmen joined because of the educational benefits or to gain a skill set or maybe to escape a very difficult home life. Knowing this information will help you engage, motivate and guide them.

Knowing your Airmen also means understanding what they want to do with their life and career. What are their goals for the next year? Five years? As a leader, you should know this type of information about those that you directly rate on, and those that are two echelons below you. Strive to keep notes on your people that you can refer to as you seek opportunities to sharpen your people.

Know your business
As leaders, we need to understand what we do. We need to be students of our craft. Your subordinates and peers expect you to know the fundamentals of your business well. They expect to be challenged and desire to be led by someone who has technical skills as well as people prowess. Don't pass up an opportunity to study up on the fundamentals by reading through your governing Air Force Instructions and technical manuals.

If there are parts of your business that you are uncomfortable with, get with your functional experts and have them walk you through what they do. They will appreciate the time spent with you, and they will know you are now more knowledgeable about their area of the business. Take time to learn something new about your business each day, and soon you may find that you are able to correlate new ideas from across your enterprise.

Know yourself
Knowing your true self can be the toughest of all challenges as a leader. Understanding your weaknesses and flaws is the beginning of wisdom. Once you realize where you are weak, you can then begin to discover how to compensate. Every leader has flaws. Your Airmen see them every day. Are you willing to see yourself through your Airmen's eyes? How do you come across to them? What do they perceive about your motivation for leading them? Do they sense that you care about them as an individual, or are they just another face in the crowd?
These are tough questions, but if you are to know yourself, these questions will help you get started. The best way to know the answers is to ask some folks around you that will give you an honest critique -- even if it hurts.

Leadership is not rank based, it is people based and it happens at every level of an organization. Every leader at any level can improve their effectiveness by focusing on knowing their Airmen better, becoming more knowledgeable about their business and by knowing themselves more intimately by seeing themselves through their Airmen's eyes.