Elements of leading today's Air Force

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Richard Parsons
  • 28th Civil Engineer Squadron Readiness and Emergency Management Flight NCO in charge
The Air Force structure that we operate within today is in a constant state of transformation. In the 1990s, we operated under a total quality management concept; now, we operate by keeping the Air Force Transformation Flight Plan in mind, which serves as a guide for Air Force operations as an individual service and as part of the joint services team.

To productively operate under a state of transformation requires effective and efficient leadership. As a new or seasoned leader, you might ask yourself, "What does it take to make it as a leader in today's Air Force?" As I pondered that question, I finally narrowed my thoughts down to two leadership characteristics I feel best address this important subject - flexibility and enthusiasm.

The first leadership characteristic needed in today's Air Force is flexibility. Flexibility is defined and described in many references as the quality of being adaptable. The Air Force has transformed itself, meshing into the joint-force concept in order to meet military objectives and the national security strategy.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley echoed the need for flexibility and adaptability in his speech "The Adaptive and Flexible Air Force for the Future" to the American Enterprise Institute Oct. 11, 2005.

In his speech, he referred to our ongoing War on Terror and the fact that we will be in it for years to come. He also said, "We will deal with this on various levels. We will deal with [it] as a joint team."

To function as a joint team will require a transformation, not only in the way we operate as a service, but also in the way we lead our troops through the transformation process. As often as things change around us, one thing holds true, people still need and want to be led. No two people are exactly alike and each person will require a different leadership approach in order to meet the challenges commonly present in the face of change.

What will you do to remain a flexible leader? It will require an open mind to new, more advantageous ways to address issues concerning coworkers up and down the chain of command. In order to fulfill this requirement, we will have to know our people and know how to detect opportunities to use the leadership skills we have all learned at some point in our career, whether in basic training, professional military education or some other form of professional development. Flexible leadership requires leaders to have a finger on the pulse of the people and make appropriate adjustments and modifications to keep the proper rhythm.

As important as flexibility is to effective leadership, enthusiasm is an equally important characteristic for leaders in today's Air Force.

Ralph Waldo Emerson stated it pretty well when he said, "Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm." Enthusiasm basically translates into the energy a person has toward doing something - in this case, being a leader in today's Air Force.

If a person is not excited or energized about what they are doing, it often becomes difficult to encourage or motivate others.

Imagine for a moment a person that you revere as an enthusiastic leader and what it is or would be like to work for that person. How much of a factor is the person's energy and overall involvement level in your choice? Now, imagine the same person without the enthusiasm, energy or drive which makes them such a good leader. How motivated would you be to do the job or work? If your imagination is anything like mine then you would probably not be very motivated.

Top Air Force leaders all the way down to the most junior Airmen need and expect greatness from today's leaders. Without great leaders, we would not be the greatest, most dominate air power ever.

It will take enthusiasm to get our troops to do all they have been trained to do. Without enthusiasm as a prominent leadership characteristic, we run the risk of losing touch with Airmen across the board.

Those who need a little help in this area might ask, "Where can I buy some of this enthusiasm stuff?" Well, the news is not good; you can't buy it. It is a trait you either have or you don't.

If you already have it, use it; if you do not have it, then you need to develop it. Enthusiasm is something that needs to be genuine, honest and sincere. For many people it will require a move out of their comfort zone and into uncharted territory, and it will be unsettling for many.

However, being enthusiastic does not mean you have to be phony. Phoniness will be viewed as insincerity and will most likely damage established relationships.

Developing enthusiasm will require you to seek out a mentor to gain knowledge and insight. Chances are the person you identified a moment ago as an enthusiastic leader would be a great place to start the mentoring process - now, just ask for help.

Realizing the world and Air Force are transforming requires that we make some adjustments to overcome the challenges that come with change. This is what we do; we change to allow a change to take place. The changes we are able to make depend on the amount of flexibility we have as leaders. The word "asymmetric" is often used to describe something not the same on all sides, something not identical. In the same manner, the word applies to the challenges we face and the Airmen we lead.