Tag Archives: development

Being a leader is about empowerment

by Capt. Joe Ahlers
97th Air Mobility Wing Office of the Staff Judge Advocate

When you look up a few quotes on leadership, common themes develop: leaders are visionary. Leaders show the way and guide those underneath them to success. Leaders take the helm, they steer the ship and they set the example. For lack of a better word, leaders…lead.

But just as, if not more, important to developing as a leader is learning to empower subordinates to take on leadership roles of their own. As impressive as one person’s credentials may be, they cannot alone be the stone on which a successful organization is built. Successful leaders know this and they cultivate strong leadership skills among their followers by harnessing a vital but difficult to master personal skill: deference. Deference means showing respect or yielding to an idea, person, or organization not of one’s own. Deference is not easy; leaders must make tough decisions and supporting a subordinate’s ideas or methods is difficult when the leader knows that they will bear the responsibility if things go wrong. Yet, a leader who defers to their subordinates when appropriate will have followers who are more invested in their work, produce better results, and are more dedicated to the greater success of the organization.

leadership

Take for example two supervisors, Jack and Susan. Jack dictates exactly what each person in an office project will work on and how they should carry out their tasks; he spends significant time re-working memorandums from his subordinates to conform to his style of writing and carefully scrutinizes the most minor decisions within his organization. Jack’s employees know they are merely at work to fulfill Jack’s task listing and do not make efforts to go above and beyond as doing so has little payoff in Jack’s eyes.

Susan, on the other hand, provides her employees a framework for office tasks but gives them latitude to explore and develop their own solutions. Susan ensures work product is accurate and sets general guidelines but believes it is important that a subordinate’s work carry its own voice and not simply her style or way of doing things. Susan ultimately makes the final decision but her employees see that she genuinely considers their viewpoints and trusts them as professionals. Susan’s subordinates are more confident and enthusiastic in their daily work and take pride in ensuring they take charge of their job functions regardless of their prominence.

Deference in leadership is easily applicable in the military. Even tasks guided by layers of regulation provide opportunities for leeway in how to accomplish daily tasks. Effective leaders nurture leadership at every level and encourage subordinates to become the expert and take responsibility for their work. If a written memorandum is wrong, fix it, but leave some room for the subordinate to use their own style; supervisors can ensure work is in the proper form and promote an employee’s confidence by deferring to their personal style. Provide subordinates a framework for how to accomplish a task and see what they come up with; you might be surprised to see a new way of doing things and you’ll drive the employee to work harder to impress.

In many ways, we are all leaders; we have raised our hands to guide the defense of the nation in whatever way we’re asked. But in daily life, leadership is much more than managing a task or directing a project; it’s about promoting a environment in which those who follow you do so not because they have to but because they desperately want to impress you and improve your organization. A true leader knows that empowering the skills and abilities of those who follow them means promoting the ideas of not just themselves, but all individuals who make up a successful team.

What kind of leader are you? What’s your leadership style?

PHOTO: Lt. Gen. Darren McDew, 18th Air Force commander, visits with Airmen from the 6th Medical Group at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., March 11, 2014. McDew toured multiple sections of the MacDill clinic. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tori Schultz)

Success through leadership

 

Master Sgt. Christopher Riffle

By Master Sgt. Christopher Riffle
27th Special Operations Security Forces Squadron


Having served 18 years in the Air Force, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to learn from and work beside some of the greatest leaders the military has ever seen. I do not claim to be a subject matter expert on leadership, nor do I consider myself to be a great leader. However, I know enough about the subject to share my thoughts on how great leadership can result in a successful unit.

The Air Force defines leadership as the art of influencing and directing people to accomplish the mission. This very difficult task can be accomplished if leaders at every level keep two very important elements in mind, successfully completing the mission, and taking care of their people.

Great leaders know the importance of their unit’s personnel and their role in mission success. Gen. Curtis E. Lemay, former Air Force Chief of Staff stated, “No matter how well you apply the art of leadership, no matter how strong your unit or how high the morale of your men, if your leadership is not directed completely toward the mission, your leadership has failed.”

I’ve always believed that this meant that, as a leader, if I was taking care of my Airmen and their needs it would ensure that the unit’s mission would be successful.

All Airmen are able to be leaders regardless of position or rank. Leadership isn’t something everyone is born with; it’s learned and developed.

How we develop ourselves and our Airmen will determine if we’ll ever truly become effective leaders. It’s important that we continue to add to our leadership toolkit by seeking professional military education, on-the-job training and professional development.

A great leader will ensure that his or her subordinates are given the opportunities to learn leadership traits through deliberate development. It’s through these experiences that we gain the qualities it takes to be a great leader.

Although there are many leadership qualities to speak of, there are a few that I have seen make lasting impacts on personnel and units across my career.

I believe enthusiasm is the most contagious of all. Throughout time the most successful leaders have demonstrated enthusiasm for the mission and their people. A leader’s enthusiasm is contagious and will spread through a unit to motivate others to adjust to the unit’s needs.

As leaders we must demonstrate a commitment to the Air Force, our unit’s mission, and our subordinates. If we do this, our Airmen will want to follow us.

As leaders we must do not only what we ask our Airmen to do, but also more. We must be credible at all times. Remember that we all are on parade and must avoid showing stress when dealing with challenging situations.

Communication is a two-way process. Listen to what your people are saying, because they often have great ideas. Share the importance of the mission and its impact on national interests. A well-informed Airman recognizes the importance of his or her job and will be more effective.

Leaders are responsible for the unit’s mission; if it fails we must accept the consequences. Accountability is also essential. Reward a job well done and hold those who fail to meet the established standards accountable.

Throughout my time here at Cannon, I have witnessed the many successes the 27th Special Operations Wing has accomplished.

I believe this is a direct correlation to the great leadership we have developed. These are Air Commandos at all levels, not just senior officers or NCOs but Airmen as well, those who want this wing to be successful not for personal gain, but because it is expected.

I challenge you to find leadership opportunities that will provide you with additional professional development. Make time to take advantage of educational opportunities at Cannon. Taking these actions will ensure the wing continues to develop leaders needed for its continued success.

Photo: U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Christopher Riffle, 27th Special Operations Security Forces Squadron first sergeant, takes a proud stance just outside the Security Forces building at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., March 21, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Carlotta Holley)

To be continued…

Chief Master Sgt. Steve K. McDonald
By Chief Master Sgt. Steve K. McDonald
Air Force Personnel Enlisted Force Development

I have to admit I became a big fan of the television series “Lost” when a friend gave me past episodes on DVD that I watched while I was deployed.

After returning home, I watched the show without fail each week. One of the most frustrating things about following the series was being totally engrossed and losing track of time only to be brought to reality when the screen went blank and the words “To Be Continued …” appeared. You didn’t want the story to end; it was a disappointment. Wouldn’t it be nice if the show could go on forever? But, as the adage says, “All good things must come to an end.”

But is this adage an absolute truth? Since I began working in force development, I have come to learn that there are two things that should never come to an end: your personal and professional development. The concept of force development is extremely important in the Air Force. Developing and caring for Airmen has been one of the service’s stated priorities for many years.

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Roy has spent the past three years espousing a philosophy of deliberately developing Airmen, as reflected in many of the Air Force’s policies and processes.

Within the world of doctrine and policy, force development is centered on the Continuum of Learning — a career-long process of individual development which connects education and training opportunities to assignment and deployment experiences.

In simpler terms, the Continuum of Learning consists of education, training and experience. For enlisted Airmen, this starts in basic military training and continues through initial skills training and into the first duty assignment.

Over the next four or 20 or 30 years, those same Airmen will continue their education and training from the Air Force by way of numerous assignments and deployment experiences. They will encounter people along the way and learn things about the service and themselves. Much of this will be deliberate in order to develop them both personally and professionally for future leadership roles in the Air Force.

But if we only focused on the resources employed by the Air Force, even force development would “come to an end.” That is why it is just as important to take a personal role in your own development. As many of you are aware, the Air Force chief of staff releases an annual reading list. Upon release of this year’s list, Daniel Sitterly, the director of force development under the deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, suggested that the Continuum of Learning should now consist of education, training, experience and reading. His point was valid.

I believe the point is that the Air Force does a good job investing in the development of individuals but we may not have done a very good job in getting people to invest in themselves.

There are many ways people can further their own development. Where the Air Force provides professional military education, individuals can pursue civilian educational opportunities. Where the Air Force provides upgrade skill training, individuals can read books and use computer-based training to enhance current skills or learn new skills. In addition to Air Force assignment and deployment experiences, Airmen can join professional organizations and take on leadership roles.

It goes without saying that the Air Force will continue to invest in the personal and professional development of its people. But with added emphasis and a commitment from individuals to invest in themselves, force development can reach new levels.
That’s the good thing about personal and professional development — they truly are designed “to be continued.”