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Don't be afraid to lead

  • Published
  • By Maj. Felix Moret III
  • 90th Munitions Squadron commander
The late Pope John Paul II was fond of saying throughout his papacy, "Be not afraid." I find his words of particular importance and applicability in the realm of leadership. It can be applied to leadership at all levels in the United States Air Force.

First of all, this statement implies that fear is a normal reaction or feeling to have under certain circumstances. All of us have been afraid numerous times throughout our lives. Whether it's when we were called on in class, asked to speak in front of an audience, playing a team or individual sport in front of people or taking a test, there are numerous times when expectations or fear of failure can cause us great anxiety.

In the Air Force, fear can develop from expectations that come with a new rank, being designated a team chief, bay chief, missile combat crew commander, section NCO-in-charge or officer-in-charge, flight superintendent or commander, operations officer or commander at any level. The weight of responsibility levied on our shoulders can overburden us. We don't feel as though we can live up to such lofty expectations. As the soon-to-be newest squadron commander at F. E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., I was extremely fearful of my inability to live up to expectations and felt that fear as the change-of-command ceremony drew nearer. I would actually be more concerned if I was not somewhat fearful when stepping outside my comfort zone or taking on an increased leadership role. This can be taken as a sign that one is taking their increased responsibility seriously and understands the importance of their new position, rank, etc.

Secondly, the statement very directly states that one should not be afraid. But why? Why should you not be afraid in such situations where it seems warranted? What should provide you comfort as you come to grips with that fear? Let's look at a couple reasons to feel comforted.

You were chosen for a reason, and the Air Force has faith and trust in you. You would not be in a leadership position if the Air Force did not think you could handle it based off your record of performance up to this point in your career. You've shown that potential based off who you are, so the last thing you'd want to do is change who you are. One of the best bits of advice I've ever received is to be myself regardless of what position I hold or the situation I find myself in. While everyone has areas to improve upon, changing who you are could steer you down the wrong path.

You're not alone. You have a support system of men and women who have been in your position or are currently in such a position. Use them. As often as I need to, I try and contact a fellow commander or mentor to help guide me through situations I come across for the first time or just need some advice on. If nothing else, use them as a sounding board. Don't ever feel like any question you have isn't worth their time, because I can guarantee you they'd be more than willing to help you out.

So, now that we know that although fear's a normal reaction, and we have the support of both the Air Force and of our fellow Airmen to reassure us, I'd like to throw out some thoughts on leadership. While the core values can provide light in such darkness and are always a good reference point, I'd like to throw out a couple of thoughts on leadership that mentors have passed down to me during my career.

Don't be a "yes man." Your boss and fellow Airmen need you to provide them the proper feedback and make the correct call, whether it's good or bad. Be concerned about doing what's right and not about making people happy. Of course you need to always do so in a professional manner, but sometimes the news is bad or the decision is hard and that's why you've been put in those positions ... because you're more than capable of making those calls and letting them know when you feel something is being done incorrectly, regardless of who is doing it -- your boss or a team member. Always telling your boss or teammates what they want to hear does everyone a disservice.

Avoid analysis paralysis. Sometimes people are so overcome by the need or desire to prove something via production numbers or metrics, that information not said brings a feeling of "there's nothing wrong" in the air. It's okay to use your intuition and go from there. As an example, you and your fellow section, flight, squadron, group Airmen may be running at an increased operations tempo that was initially designed to be for the short term. But, over time, for reasons that may be justifiable and which you cannot wholly control, this short-term situation has shifted to more of a long-term issue. While you try and do the best you can to control those parts you have some control over, the fact remains you aren't manned for such a long-term surge. But, your production metrics are still green and you have not had any accidents or incidents that would draw attention to the toll this long-term surge has taken on your Airmen. You cannot wait until one or the other happens. Intuitively you know that the timeline shift is causing concern that could eventually lead to a problem. You must act. There will more than likely always be data of some sort, but it may not be in the production realm. You have to take care of your people and the mission.

So, do not be afraid to lead. You have shown that you have the capability to do so, and you have the trust and confidence of the Air Force and fellow Airmen who will readily provide you their insight and perspective when times get tough. This willingness and ability to lead throughout the officer and enlisted corps is what has made the United States the preeminent nuclear power in the world. Each generation must continue to step up to the plate.