Say, See, Study: Key Competencies

  • Published
  • By Col. Stephen Pedrotty
  • 8th Operations Group commander
Have you ever walked away from a conversation wondering, "What did he mean and what am I supposed to do now?" How about thinking, "They just don't understand how things are down here, why don't they get it?"

If that has happened to you, what do you think the odds are someone has felt the same way after a conversation with you? By focusing on three key competencies, an Airman (from airman first class to general) can improve his or her effectiveness as a leader. In simple fighter piloteese, we can boil it down to: say, see and study (three simple words that begin and end with the same sounds).

A successful leader must be able to communicate intentions and vision, must be able to say what needs to be done and how it should look once completed. The leader must also be able to see the issue for what it is, boiled down to the basics with a solid understanding of the root cause. Finally, leaders must have a desire to learn more about their job, their organization and their surroundings. To be an effective leader, one must study the environment, continually developing one's self and others using a lifelong approach to learning. It is just that simple; message communicated, article done ... or not.

Communication is the way a leader funnels information, establishes climate and conveys his or her vision to the team. You could have the best plan in the world, but if you are unable to (or neglect to) communicate the idea to the team, then both the leader and the organization will be ineffective. The organization would suffer because its Airmen would be unable to identify where they were supposed to go or what they were supposed to do when they got there.

It is important to note that only a small subset of communication uses words, either spoken or written. The remaining, and frequently more resonant, forms are the product of action or inaction. An effective leader must synchronize every message he or she projects. Your actions and the artifacts that surround you (dress and appearance, language, fitness, extracurricular activities) must agree with the message you are trying to convey. People are quick to recognize the "do as I say, not as I do" type of leader. The synchronized message provides the organization the vector and desired end state it needs to be successful. In addition to synchronizing your communications, you must foster an environment that allows subordinates an avenue to provide feedback and get clarification when they don't understand directions they receive. While this mechanism is normally available, the environment must be conducive to that dialogue.

The next competency for a leader is the ability to see situations for what they are, being able to boil a problem down to its root cause, which in turn allows the treatment of the problem and not just the symptom. The analysis continues with an examination of the solution for second- and third-order effects of the applied solution. (As we know, today's problems were yesterday's solutions.)

According to Stephen Shambach, editor of the Strategic Leadership Primer, frames of reference form and evolve as an individual gains experience, witnesses events and progresses through the various levels of leadership. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the developing leader to seek out opportunities to broaden his or her perspective, whether done through travel, reading, or engaging in activities the leader would not normally participate in.

Studying (education) is the manifestation of the continued drive for self-improvement we demand from our Airmen. According to Arthur Newlon, author of "Human Resource System: Competencies, Selection and Experience, Leader Development & Learning Project," it involves a lifelong approach to learning where members continually endeavor to improve themselves, their peers and their subordinates. Effective leaders seize every opportunity to learn from others as well as from their own experiences. They are eager mentors, who share knowledge and experiences with their peers and subordinates. This dialogue helps prepare future leaders while providing a "second opinion" of the lessons learned from the current situation (training your replacement is another responsibility of a leader, but I will save that for another time).

Developing leaders capable of operating in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment is essential to the success of the military, and therein, the nation. We need to ensure that today's budding leaders are ready for tomorrow's wicked problems by enabling them to focus a portion of their resources and time on developing the competencies of communication, expanding their frames of reference and fueling their desire for self-improvement. Once accomplished, we can ensure they will have the tools to handle any situation. Say, see, study ... simple.