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Who’s in charge here? ‘I think I’m in charge here’

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Have you ever had to lead a meeting? Do you think you could?  Well, guess what. As you grow in rank, you grow in responsibility. Many of you will find yourself at the head of a table, or running a meeting sooner than you expected. Most Air Force structures have few people at the top echelons.  With all that we do today in the Air Force, many times the person who is supposed to be leading an effort or in command could be on leave, temporary duty location or even in another meeting. Someone else will have to be in charge.  Sometimes that comes with little or no warning.  Can you step up?  Of course you can! 

We grow leaders in the Air Force.  We can't recruit a leader from high school or a commissioning source.  You've been trained to be a leader since you joined.  Air Force Instruction 90-201, The Air Force Inspection System, outlines the four major graded areas that are looked at during an inspection, and 1-2, Commander's Responsibilities, outlines the responsibilities of commanders.  Both of these documents spell out clearly that developing Airmen is a priority of the Air Force.  So much so, that we as a wing and as commanders are graded on our efforts. 

There is a systematic approach to molding an airman basic to a senior NCO, and a 2nd Lt. to a colonel. Through a series of different experiences and schools, we grow your followership and leadership abilities. At basic training you learned how to wear the uniform, salute and follow orders. In first term Airman's school you learn what it means to be a part of a great organization.  At Airman leadership school you learn what it means to be a supervisor.  In all of these, individuals get an opportunity to fill a leadership role to some extent.  The opportunity to lead expands in NCO academy and other training courses culminating in the senior NCO academy. For officers, leadership theory is taught in commissioning sources, along with opportunities to put those into practice.  At squadron officer school these theories are reinforced, and you learn to be part of an effective team.  At Air Command and Staff College you learn to work, think and be successful in a headquarters staff position or unit leadership role such as operations officer or squadron commander.  In Air War College, we are prepping Airman to be senior military leaders, colonels and beyond. 

When you return from these schools, you put the skills you learned into practice.  Sooner than you know it, you will be promoted.  Time goes fast!  New Airmen will come into your unit and look to you for guidance.  In some career fields, enlisted personnel can see themselves as a supervisor as early as Senior Airman.  As an officer, it could be your first day in the unit.  

Even outside of professional military education you are constantly learning leadership.  You may have had a leader who you really liked, and others, not so much.  What did you like or dislike about that leader's style?  How would you improve upon what that leader did?  How would you do it differently?  Take moments like that to create your own professional education lesson for the day.  Events like these all influence your leadership style. 

Some experiences are stepping stones to leadership, such as being a sponsor, leading a project or taking on a program for the unit that is critical to the mission's success.  In these experiences you interact with others, have some feedback mechanism such as a report, paperwork or even a briefing.  These experiences grow your ability to lead.  People start looking to you as the expert and want your guidance on things.  All of a sudden you have become a leader. 
Many military folks lead in organizations outside of work.  We look favorably on those experiences and encourage it.  For those of you who have been part of the quarterly and annual award processes, you'll note that base and community involvement is worth approximately 15 percent of an award's score.  The more leadership you display on the outside, the better your score.  These experiences strengthen your ability to lead.  I've had Airmen who worked for me that led a Cub Scout pack, were active leaders in the Civil Air Patrol, on the council at their church or even the president of their homeowners' association. 

So are you ready to be in charge?  Sure you are.  It might seem daunting, but soon you'll realize that the Air Force has been growing you as a leader your whole career. 

Lt. Col. Thomas R. Colvin is the 11th Space Warning Squadron commander at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo.  The 11th SWS operates on-orbit infrared payloads providing next generation missile warning for the United States and our allies.  The 11th SWS is a geographically separated unit under the 460th Space Wing and Buckley Air Force Base.