**Disclaimer: this post is aimed towards SNCOs; however, all can learn from it**
Leadership has always come down to the people and the mission. Some leaders gravitate towards caring for the mission; some caring for the people and the great ones can operate somewhere in the middle. I may be way too optimistic or even naïve, but I think the top 3 leaders in the USAF are showing signs of this. The SECAF, CSAF, and CMSgt Wright appear to be focusing on the mission as they develop their people. This is going to open doors for us to break this 1950’s top-down leadership model and take our teams to the next level; however, we need to do our part.
I remember having to get approval from the maintenance group commander from another base to release the jet from an impound condition while deployed. He is the approving authority. Here was the process I had to follow. I called the owning base’s maintenance ops control center and told them the status of the aircraft. They took my info and said they were going to route it up the chain. Then I got a call from their “lead maintenance controller” who I again explained the situation too. He, too, said he was going to route it up the chain. In came calls from the maintenance lead pro super at the squadron level, the OIC and the maintenance ops officer (MOO) who each had the same types of annoying and irrelevant questions that wasted more and more time. Finally, the MOO sent me to the MXG’s QA team and they interrogated me for 30 minutes and then added some more stupidity onto the task. They then stated they would call the commander and get back in touch with me. Finally, the group commander called me and was now upset because it was the middle of the night and he was confused on what we did. We talked for about 2 minutes to clarify the message and he gave me the green light.
The whole process above took my entire 12-hour shift to accomplish for a 2-minute call. The funny thing is that the Colonel didn’t need any of the information these other time-sucks wanted. In fact, their actions just confused him. He was in the loop on all of the maintenance actions and investigations we were accomplishing. He just needed to know we were done and the results. Contrast that with how things are done at my current base: we have trusted pro supers who have a direct line to the Colonel. These pro supers know what questions to ask and are on the ground level to see the actions being accomplished. They can relay first-hand what is going on and get approval in a matter of minutes. It is a very effective and efficient model. Why?
Every leadership course I have taken (PME or college) has discussed the telephone game and to be wary of it; however, it is present all throughout our chain of command. The old model of leadership is very clunky and slow. It kills innovation and initiative. Imagine if I was trying to push a new idea through that meat grinder explained above. I would have said “screw it” somewhere along that path out of frustration. Instead, being able to communicate directly with the appropriate decision makers ensures relevant questions are being asked and time is not wasted. Imagine all the other things all of those people in the first example could have been doing in lieu of all that research. I am certain their jobs were not to sit there and wait for me to call them; rather, I was a distraction from their real work.
As leaders we can apply this model very simply:
1) Outline levels of authority: There are decisions we are authorized to delegate to others. Determine who on your team has the necessary experience and capability to make those decisions and define their lane for them.
2) Train and trust team to do their jobs: Once you define their lane, train them as needed with sound mentorship. Then trust them to make the right decisions. Encourage them to repeat this process with their team as well.
3) Follow-up and communicate: Follow-up with them often to see how the process is going. Discuss their decisions with them and make sure their decision-making process is more than coin-flipping. Talk to them about what you are working on and probe them for what they are working on.
There are going to be a lot of changes in the Air Force as our leaders start to eliminate waste and begin to allow us to lead our teams. We need to be ready and show them that SNCOs are not afraid to make tough decisions and we can create a pipeline of leaders who are capable of doing the same thing.