Leadership…A low cost, essential, renewable resource

  • Published
  • By Maj. Mike Jewell
  • 97th Security Forces Squadron commander
During my career in the Air Force I've lived through many of those "never seen anything like this before" periods. I guess I'd have to say the first was the Berlin Wall coming down, followed quickly by the first Persian Gulf conflict. We experienced the frustration and uncertainty of stop-loss as a result of the conflict and then survived the hollowing of the forces by subsequent cash separation incentives to down-size our forces. The attacks of 9/11 redefined the nature of warfare and galvanized our services to answer the nation's call - but once again - force shaping took its toll on the Department of Defense shortly after. Throw into the mix the current uncertainty of sequestration and you have a list of events or situations that I'm sure many said "would be the end of things." With the deck apparently stacked against us, how are we still here? Leadership, that's how!

The first line of the Army's Ranger Handbook sums it up, identifying leadership as the "the most essential element of combat power." Our Air Force history is filled with the exploits of great leaders that guided us through the toughest of times over the last 65 years. As each day passes, a new chapter in our history is written. Those remembered will be those who accomplished the mission by leading their people against a myriad of challenges. Will you be one of them?

Mission accomplishment must be first and foremost. Our nation relies on us to fly, fight and win; regardless of the enemy or challenge. Today, though engaged with a shooting enemy, we're also faced with culprits such as limited resources and civilian personnel furloughs, yet the mission must continue. As leaders, we must focus on our "must-dos", avoiding the busy work that does not contribute to the mission. Be honest with your superiors and peers regarding your capabilities and limitations. Realistic expectation management is key to success in a resource constrained environment. In focusing on the mission, leaders must realize that people make the mission happen.

Always remember our Airmen are a high demand/low density asset. Once the mission has been clearly identified, open and honest communication with our people is essential. Setting clear and realistic expectations of your people - and of yourself - is the first step in moving toward success. Be honest with your Airmen regarding issues that affect the unit and them individually and not just what you think should be affecting them. Take the time to listen to the truth from those getting the job done. Provide the opportunities for your Airmen to learn, develop and grow. Sometimes this means that mistakes will happen, but learning will still take place. Additionally, we need to make sure our people get the chance to take a break, catch their breath, and re-fill their tanks. Keep in mind, that in developing your Airmen you are preparing your replacements.

Leadership is a full-contact sport. As such, we must ensure we take time to take care of ourselves, as well. Just like our Airmen, leaders still need to take the time to continue their professional development, maintain physical fitness and just "switch-off" occasionally. This time away from the office not only allows us to re-charge our batteries, but also allows us to reflect on recent events while mentally preparing for the upcoming challenges. Often overlooked, taking personal time demonstrates to your Airmen that you are not just talking the talk, but you are walking the walk.

Ten years from now, people will be talking about "back in the day" regarding sequestration, the drawdown in Afghanistan and the tension on the Korean peninsula, recounting where they were, what they were doing, who they worked with and how they made it through those significant events. We are those people now ... we need leaders to get us to that point. Are you in?