What it takes to be a leader in today’s Air Force

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Rich Parsons
  • 8th Civil Engineer Squadron
The Air Force structure that we operate within today is in a constant state of transformation. 

In the 90s, we operated under a Total Quality Management concept. Now, we operate while keeping the Air Force Transformation Flight Plan in mind. The AF Transformation Flight Plan serves as a guide for AF operations as an individual service and as part of the joint services team. 

To effectively operate under a state of transformation requires effective and efficient leadership. As a new or even 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 that I feel best address this important subject: flexibility and enthusiasm. 

The first leadership characteristic that a leader needs 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 to mesh into the joint force concept in order to meet military objectives and the national security strategy. 

Former Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. T. Michael Moseley, echoed the need for flexibility and adaptability in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute Oct. 11, 2005. His speech was titled, "The Adaptive and Flexible Air Force for the Future." In his speech, he referred to our ongoing war on terrorism and the fact that we will be in it for years to come. 

"We will deal with this on various levels," he said. "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 that are 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 that concern our 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 that 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 that a person has toward doing something. If a person is not excited or energized about what they are doing then it often becomes difficult to encourage or motivate others. 

Picture for a moment a person 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 that person's energy and overall involvement level in your choice? 

Now, imagine that same person without the enthusiasm, energy, or drive that makes them such a good leader. How motivated would you be to do the job or work for that person now? If your imagination is anything like mine then you are probably not very motivated. 

Top Air Force leaders all the way down to the lowest ranking Airman 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 that 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 that 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 that will be unsettling for many. 

Being enthusiastic, however, does not mean you have to be phony. Phoniness will be viewed as insincerity and will most likely damage the relationships you have established. Developing enthusiasm will require you to seek out a mentor to gain some knowledge and insight on the matter. Chances are the person you identified a moment ago as an enthusiastic leader would be a great place to start the mentoring process. Now, all you have to do is ask for help. 

Realizing that the world and the Air Force are transforming requires us to make some adjustments to overcome any challenges that come with change. That is what we do; we change to allow a change to take place. The changes that we are able to make depend on the amount of flexibility that we have as leaders of today's Air Force. 

The word "asymmetric" is often used to describe something that is not the same on all sides, something that is not identical. Well, that word applies to the challenges we face and the Airmen we lead. In order to deal with the challenges and the Airmen, leaders in today's Air Force need to be flexible and adapt accordingly. As we display our flexibility, we need to have the enthusiasm and the energy necessary to not only drive ourselves, but those that feed off of us--those that we lead. Keeping in mind that we all lead in one way or another, we can benefit from incorporating these two leadership characteristics into our 'toolbox'. So, to sum it all up into one catchy phrase, we need to be "Enthusiastically Flexible"; that is what it takes to be a leader in today's Air Force.