Reflections on leadership
By Lt. Col. William Cannon, 45th Security Forces Squadron commander
/ Published November 20, 2008
PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Recently, Gen. C. Robert Kehler, Commander of Air Force Space Command, challenged leaders at every level to accept responsibility, take ownership, enforce standards, and demand accountability. Under the banner, "Year of Leadership," we will emphasize leadership attributes and traits, improve our focus, enhance our skills, and increase our interaction with those we lead.
My initial thought, upon reading General Kehler's YoL memo was one of disappointment - not in the plan of attack for restoring confidence and credibility, but in the erosion of leadership, standards, and discipline that brought us to this point.
My next thought was on who, or what, was to blame; however, I quickly came to the realization it didn't matter how we got here. The real issue is how to set the proper tone and move forward as leaders in the world's most respected and capable Air Force. With that in mind, I reflected on some leadership philosophies that I have found useful over my career and wanted to share a few of them with you.
Get off of the sidelines and into the game. A chaplain offered this wisdom, and while not specifically addressing leadership, I think it's applicable. Leaders at every level must get out of the office, away from email, and into the work centers to provide a visible presence. We must see what our folks are doing, what they need to do their job better or improve their quality of life, and open lines of communication.
Outstanding or Outprocessing. This was my flight chief's feedback on performance expectations when I was a young Airman in 1981. It was before mandatory feedback sessions, but it was clear that anything less than outstanding was unacceptable and I have strived for that level for 27 years (albeit not always successfully).
Attitude trumps aptitude. This was on a bulletin board at Officer Training School when I went through in 1991. Perhaps I was just rationalizing my lack of aptitude, but I've found that a positive attitude and willingness to put forth the required effort typically matters more than intelligence in accomplishing the mission.
Stop complaining and start complying. A group commander shared this with the wing commander after the 911 attack when the wing commander was lamenting about some of the downward-directed security, accountability, and operational requirements. While most of us would hesitate to be this blunt with the commander, the bottom line is that compliance is essential at every level, and all of us may need an occasional reminder.
If it's not inspected, it gets neglected. Leaders share their focus on important issues by continually following up on them. If it's not a priority for the leader, it will not be a priority for the follower, so prioritize and act accordingly.
Whether you adopt one of these philosophies or create your own, I hope you share my desire to accept General Kehler's leadership challenge, not only during this year but from this point forward as we seek to regain our confidence and credibility. We owe it to each other and our nation as American Airmen.