Forging tomorrow’s leaders

  • Published
  • By Col. Bart Weiss
  • 22nd Operations Group commander
The past three weeks have gone by like a blur, but one thing is apparent; Team McConnell is an incredible leadership laboratory.

Forging tomorrow's leaders is frequently enhanced by a changing or more challenging environment...such as leading young Airmen through a myriad of higher headquarter inspections or continuously operating at a forward-deployed location.

Setting the right example, or simply "doing what's right," is a big part of the leadership equation.

There is a great deal you can do to develop your own leadership abilities and to help others become better leaders. If you are unsure of where to start, perhaps the following questions may give you some ideas.

Ask yourself these questions as a leader of Airmen. As an officer, senior noncommissioned officer or noncommissioned officer, your role may vary, but if you can't answer these questions, who can?

In your squadron, the "buck stops" with you, the first-level supervisors and leaders, when it comes to the leadership, readiness, training and professional development of your Airmen.

How many people are you responsible for, and who are they? Who among them is married, engaged, separated or single? Married or not, who among them has children or other dependents? There are dozens of issues surrounding family members, many of which directly affect the supervisors and leaders. This includes making sure they are entered into Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System and TRICARE, checking on their family care plans, and making sure they know who to contact when their sponsors are deployed. Can you contact your Airmen after hours, and do they know how to contact you? Do they have updated identification cards and dog tags? Does everyone in the unit have a will?

There are also numerous financial issues that should concern you as a leader - their Service-members Group Life Insurance status, eligibility for a Selective Re-enlistment Bonus, and so forth. Have you ever looked at their personnel records? Is their Single Unified Record File correct? Is their Performance Based Work Statement current? As a leader, you should have a good handle on all of these issues.

The on and off-duty conduct of your subordinates directly reflects upon you as a leader. Make sure you develop and perfect your own style of communication amongst the Airmen you supervise, and remember that counseling can be both negative and positive. Have you ever inspected their rooms, uniforms, off-duty attire or private owned vehicle? Do you routinely exercise with your squadron mates/Airmen? Have you ever counseled your Airmen on their performance or conduct without the individual making a mistake first? Taking a proactive approach to discipline - addressing a potential problem before it gets worse - is always much more effective than dealing with a problem after the fact.

You should be personally familiar with the training folders on each of your Airmen. Review them frequently. Have they successfully accomplished their annual training requirements (weapons qualification, self-aide and buddy care, law of armed conflict, etc.), or are they scheduled to be complete? If so, who prepared them for these events? Work with your unit training manager, and make sure feedback is provided following the training. Are your Airmen keeping up with their ground and flight currency? Are they physically fit? Do they have a passport and government travel cards? Will they expire while they are serving temporary duty? Every good leader makes sure his or her personnel are trained and ready at all times.

Professional military education is an important and essential part of the career development of your Airmen. Do they have all their PME complete? Does your section/squadron maintain a Weighted Airman Promotion System library? What role do you play in the testing process? What's your confidence level your Airmen will pass their Career Development Coarse? Remember, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force also maintains a reading list that contains outstanding resources for the career and professional development of leaders at all levels.

As a leader, one of your many responsibilities includes that of the career advisor. Do you know if each individual Airman is staying in, getting out or is undecided? Regular career counseling is essential to morale and an effective organization, no matter the size. If they are getting out, have you discussed their transition plan with them? Talk to each one individually, and see if there are goals you can help them achieve. Get out of the inbox and try some "walk-around leadership."

How many of the above questions can you answer? Who in your leadership team can? What we're really talking about is stewardship and mentorship. Parents are an excellent example of what mentorship is all about.

To quote John Wooden, former coach of stet record-setting University of California, Los Angeles basketball team, discussing parenting, "Show leadership, show discipline, show industriousness. Have traditional values. The person you are is the person your child will become."

In the same vein, the character and concern you display as a leader will be reflected back in the attitude and performance of your followers.

The men and women of our military forces are, without a doubt, our most treasured resource. We as officers, SNCOs and NCOs, supervisors must recognize this reality and lead our people with dignity, integrity, and most importantly ... action blended with mutual respect.

I once heard it said "There's a lot of give and take in the world today, but not many people willing to give what it takes." I challenge you to be one of those willing to give what it takes.