You are the future - lead the future

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Paul Smith
  • 566th Information Operations Squadron commander
There are defining moments in life that impact you, and the lives of those who are fortunate, or perhaps unfortunate, to be around you when you decide to choose wisely or unwisely. I am talking to you, current and future first-line supervisors, who are, or will be, charged with leading our most valuable resource by far - our Airmen.

Let me be blunt. In 21 years of military service, I have seen the very good, the very bad and the very ugly. Stop and ask yourself which type of leader you are. Stop a second and truly reflect.

Perhaps you've concluded that this question isn't fair; that you're somewhere in between a very good leader and a very bad leader - that you're a very OK leader, so to speak. This is good because now you're thinking.

You've taken a step in the right direction, which is this: No matter who you are, or what rank you've attained so far, you can be a better leader - period. Truth be told, our Air Force is depending on you first-line supervisors more than anyone else. Let's take a little quiz and see how you're doing so far.

Ask yourself if you patted the back of a deserving Airman today for a job well done.

Did you take time yesterday to write the best evaluation or quarterly award package you could for a deserving Airman after all of his or her hard work, and for making you and the Air Force look good?

Did you counsel an Airman last week who was less than 100 percent respectful to a subordinate, peer or superior? Did you make a spot uniform correction? Or, did you let it go by for somebody else to take care of?

Do you know the first name of your subordinates, where they grew up, and more importantly, what they want from this assignment, and their Air Force careers? Are you actively helping them achieve their goals?

Did you mentor that Airman who is trying hard to do a good job, but doesn't seem to be adjusting to military life, and is getting into some trouble despite his unlimited potential?

If you answered yes to these questions, you're on the right track. To be sure, leadership is much more than this, but two things are constant: You have to want to lead, and you have to truly care for your Airmen.

Some say leaders are born, not made. I don't agree with that. It is true indeed that some Airmen are born with raw physical or mental talents, which give them a leadership edge. If you are one of these extraordinary men or women, I ask that you don't waste your God given talent - that you feed it, and that you excel.

For the rest of us, which is most of us, you have two options. The first option involves taking a very active part in learning and practicing how to become a better leader of Airmen. The second option involves the opposite; that you do it haphazardly, without giving it much thought. Mark my words, the result of choosing option two will impact negatively those Airmen you are currently leading, or will eventually be charged to lead. Please don't choose option two.

Surprisingly enough, I've spoken with several Airmen of different ranks who have told me they are mostly interested in doing their technical or staff duties, and are less attracted to jobs that entail a lot of "admin stuff," like supervising, and writing evaluations or awards. I tell them frankly to rethink their priorities.

As you put on more and more chevrons, or more rank on your shoulders, the Air Force is less and less interested in your technical prowess, than it is in your leadership potential. Said differently, they are less interested in how fast you can turn a wrench, or fix a computer or radar, than how well you take care of Airmen and motivate them to accomplish the mission.

Here's the good news: it's never too late to develop or improve those leadership skills. The Air Force will help you by sending you to Professional Military Education, but frankly this is not enough. The rest is up to you. You need to put those skills to use daily. Even if you're not in a direct leadership role, always be a good wingman and mentor to those Airmen near you, especially if you or they are working in a joint or inter-agency environment far from an Air Force flag pole.

Likewise, volunteer to lead a "Tiger Team" or take an office in a company grade officer, senior noncommissioned officer, or First Six Squadron or Base Council. Serve, lead and set a good example.

Being asked to supervise and lead is not a burden, it is a privilege. Take the appropriate steps to develop and hone your leadership skills now. Your Airmen are depending on you. For their sake and for the good of the Air Force, don't stumble - succeed!