Rethinking how we lead

  • Published
  • By Maj. Kevin Byram
  • 436th Comptroller Squadron

While there are many theories on leadership, it is inherently up to each individual to determine how they will lead. I used this as motivation to read multiple leadership books leading up to my change of command to prepare myself for what was to come. Knowing that I was leaving a staff position with senior leaders to lead first-term Airmen, I felt it was important to understand what their values and concerns were. What I was not prepared for is how different today’s Airmen are from my expectations. Today’s Airmen are highly educated, diverse and independent thinkers.

I was quick to realize that being a good comptroller does not translate into being a good commander. Everything I had read about being an effective leader was an old way of thinking. I realized that I cannot only direct Airmen but that I must allow Airmen to be leaders themselves. Even though not every Airman supervises others, it does not mean they can’t lead a team, a process or a project. Putting our young Airmen in positions to be creative and use the education they obtained before entering the Air Force is vital to our continuity. Many times the Airmen have ideas that go against the process that we have followed our entire careers. Their way of thinking, with the ability and willingness to adapt to change, allows us to challenge the status quo. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., promotes this same mentality when he mentions that we must “Accelerate Change or Lose.” Utilizing their expertise in technology can only help us become more efficient in the mission for which we are responsible.

It is easy to try to counter this with the thought that not every idea is a good idea. However, the Airman who has expressed their ideas are not always heard. It could be a funding issue, timeliness or just that their supervisor is unwilling to change a process that they don’t understand. We must encourage our company grade officers and noncommissioned officers to be open to these ideas. We must encourage Airmen to utilize the resources available to them, such as Squadron Innovation Funds, Bedrock Lab, etc. We have to encourage them to think outside the box and let the Airmen stumble without letting them fail.

Allowing an Airman to go through a Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) event, implement the process and test it on a small sample size may show that the idea needs work but in the end it is their idea. The Airmen doing the work at the lowest level can quickly identify the shortfalls and deficiencies that they run into each day. Giving them the flexibility to succeed in turn promotes a morale that cannot be generated by leadership directed morale events.