Intentionally developing leaders -- Every day

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Paul Scott
  • 22nd Operations Support Squadron commander
The mission of the United States Air Force is to fly, fight and win -- in the air, space and cyberspace. To accomplish this mission, the Air Force must be able to identify and defeat threats to our nation's security across the entire globe and into the realms of space and electronic information.

As I reflect on what is most important to mission success, I boil it down to one thing: Leaders. Effective leaders are the single most important thing in our Air Force. They are necessary throughout all levels of an organization. Because of the importance, each of us must be intentional every day about developing our Airmen into better leaders.

Day in and day out, we complete the specific tasks that collectively accomplish the 22nd Air Refueling Wing priorities of Ready Mobility, Ready Airmen and Ready Base. It's easy to fall into a routine of simply finishing the immediate tasks as quickly and efficiently as possible. This routine isn't necessarily bad because time is a precious commodity, and speed and efficiency are commendable attributes we should foster and encourage.

As we complete the work, however, we must also be dedicated to building our Ready Airmen into better leaders. Developing leaders isn't easy and it requires specific focus.

Leader development is a big part of why the Air Force is willing to invest significant time in professional military education. It's a large part of the curriculum in every PME course. Courses such as Airman Leadership School, Squadron Officers School and NCO Academy take individuals away from the unit for weeks, but it's worth it because these courses refine and sharpen leadership skills. The Air Force knows the leaders that return are worth the time invested.

It's not sufficient, however, to delegate leadership growth to PME courses. Leader development is an everyday concern and each of us needs to make it an essential part of daily operations. If you they are not already taking an intentional approach to growing leaders in your unit, here are six suggestions follow:

· Start by teaching your immediate subordinates all you can about what it takes to lead at your level. If you do this, the junior person will benefit and become ready for a greater leadership role. You will benefit as well because you'll eventually have more time available. Most importantly, the unit benefits. If a short-notice deployment, family emergency or similar situation crops up, your unit will already have a back-up leader in place.
· Appropriately involve subordinates in large decisions such as personnel moves or the structure of the section. Keep them informed, gather their input and make them part of the team that considers the benefits/drawbacks of the possibilities. As the leader, the decision is ultimately yours, but this approach broadens the perspective of your people and prepares them to be leaders.
· Teach everyone to uphold high standards. A true leader holds an offender accountable when standards aren't met and teaches subordinate leaders in the chain of command to do the same. This principle applies to a long list of standards including job skills, discipline, fitness and customs and courtesies. Involving subordinate leaders in the enforcement of standards builds strength and depth in the unit.
· Be willing to let subordinates practice leading at greater levels of responsibility. As you "take off the training wheels," mistakes may happen, but that's okay because these mistakes provide powerful lessons that help Airmen become better leaders. (Just remember it is your responsibility to ensure the magnitude of the mistake won't endanger people or the mission.)
· Develop leaders by example. Be the leader that teaches leaders to teach leaders. Stop and think about that last sentence for a minute. Then think about how to implement it. The goal is to achieve a culture in your work section where leader development is the norm.
· Don't give up on teaching all of your people to lead. While some people possess greater aptitude than others, leadership is a skill that needs development. In some cases it will be more difficult and you'll need to proceed more slowly, but you are capable of improving each person's leadership ability.

There's more to leader development than these six suggestions. If you have additional ideas, put them into practice. Remember that teaching someone else to lead is frequently not the most efficient way to accomplish the immediate task at hand. However, the short-term pain will be worth the long-term gain. Shoot for big dividends on your investment in future leaders.

As our Air Force faces a broad mission set in a complex environment, we will always have a requirement for leaders. We will never be able to perfectly anticipate how to counteract the next threat to national security, or the next natural disaster. But with well-trained leaders, we will be capable of meeting the challenge. Our Air Force needs leaders and it's counting on every Airman to develop them