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The Courage to Lead

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Daniel Arvin
  • 90th Security Forces Group security forces manager
When you hear the word leader who comes to mind? Do you picture our grandiose first President George Washington dressed out in his blue service uniform with gold fringe leading the Continental Army into battle? Perhaps you visualize another great leader from the history of our nation: President Abraham Lincoln and his leadership through the Civil War, General George S. Patton and his armored tank division as he tore through the German army, Martin Luther King Jr. as he led the civil rights movement in America, or General Norman Schwarzkopf as he quickly crippled the Iraqi military during the First Gulf War. Many of us look to our parents and the leadership skills they displayed while raising us, planting our feet on solid ground.

Throughout my life a multitude of people have encouraged and helped me develop into the person and military member I am today. Of course, this started with my parents, school teachers, supervisors, peers, mentors, friends, and countless others. You don't have to be a general, colonel, or chief master sergeant to be a leader. All of our service members and civilians who raised their hands and swore to defend our great nation took the first steps as military leaders. However, I believe the most valuable leaders in today's Air Force are our first line supervisors. This is where all the heavy lifting takes place. First line supervisors and their subordinates are the ones who perform the daily mission and get the job done.

So, I ask our first line supervisors; how are you developing your leadership skills and how would your subordinates view your abilities as a leader? Do you face problems head on or shy away? Do you fear what you are doing? Do you reflect on how you are impacting future leaders you supervise? Sometimes fear may be a good thing. Fearing that something may not turn out right could indicate you care. Fearing that an issue may turn out explosive could simply signal it needs to be addressed. I don't believe your subordinates have expectations of you leading the Continental Army into battle on a white horse and gaining independence for our nation. George Washington and his brave army have taken care of this one and I would bet George Washington had his fears. But I do believe your subordinates have expectations of you putting your leadership skills into action to develop them into skilled Airmen, cultivate their career, teach them about the Air Force, and instill leadership skills along the way.

Feedback is one way to ensure you are building future leaders. Have you taken the time to set expectations and complete the required feedbacks, not only the initial feedback but follow-up feedbacks as required, or when requested by the Airmen? What about daily verbal feedback on the job? What about your first term Airmen who are completing their career development course (CDC)? Did you just hand the CDCs to your new Airman and say here, complete one volume per month and bring it back when you are finished? Or, did you actually sit down with them and go over each volume and explain how the entire process works? Did you explain any current issues with CDCs, some pitfalls other Airmen may have experienced? Lastly, did you share your own experience with CDCs, and how you may have overcome any issues you faced while completing your own course? Leadership is all about hands on participation and these are a few areas where it can be practiced.

What about explaining the mission we perform, why we perform our mission, your subordinate's role and how they fit into the entire mission in the duty section, squadron, wing and Air Force. Why is it important that they perform their duties correctly and at the right time? Many career fields also have annual certifications required before job duties may be performed. How do you help your Airmen prepare? Do you throw them a study packet and wish them well? Or, better, do you sit down with them and go through the aspects of the certification, cover the study material and offer tips which may help? Do you help them study when you have the time on the job or spend some off-duty time preparing your Airmen? Leadership is a 24/7 endeavor and takes time and persistence, if not approached this way then you will be overcome by mission priorities and other distracters.

What about the off-duty aspects of the Air Force life? The vast majority of our Airmen will live in the dormitory for some period of time. Have you explained the expectations of dorm life and visited their dorm and room to ensure they have a quality lifestyle. What about off-duty expectations of behavior? Especially for those under 21 years of age. Have you spoken to them about not drinking alcohol? What about those who are 21 and older and the expectations of drinking responsibly. If you have Airmen who should be receiving basic allowance for subsistence or those who should be receiving the basic allowance for housing, have you checked their leave and earnings statement to ensure they are receiving these entitlements? How about explaining the leave system and showing your Airmen where and how to apply for leave?

Once you are in virtual MPF reviewing the leave system how about showing your Airmen some of the other aspects, such as the assignment system and how to list their choices. Ensure you include the Equal Plus system as well. I frequently discuss assignments and am surprised that many do not know how to choose an assignment nor the priorities of how assignments are selected. Short tours are given first priority for selections regardless of where they may be listed on the dream sheet. Next, are extended long tours followed by the standard long tour. Only one Equal Plus assignment may be applied for at a time and trumps all other dream sheet selections. Have you explained the re-enlistment process or the promotion system so Airmen can be prepared to wear their new rank and are not surprised to find out they have been promoted when they see it on their leave and earnings statement? This list is not all inclusive but only a few things all Airmen should be aware of and knowing can help ease their fears. This time is another opportunity for first line supervisors to learn more about their Airmen and practice hands on leadership.

There are many things we can do to help prepare our Airmen for their careers. I was prepared and influenced literally by hundreds of other great Airmen, NCOs, SNCOs, and Officers all who gave me one more item to add to my tool kit. First line supervisors are not expected to have all the answers, but should know how to seek out those who do, seek out the help agencies when needed, and when confronted with an issue beyond your capability, seek help from the experts. I receive help each and every day from dozens of people around F. E. Warren, our MAJCOM and even Headquarters Air Force. I seek advice from the experts to help solve issues and ensure the best results are received for all members of the Air Force.

All of us began our journey as leaders the moment we stepped forward and swore to serve our nation. As a first line supervisor you are more of a leader than you can imagine. Your subordinates look to you for advice, guidance, and want you to be interested in their lives and well being. You can make a difference and ensure your Airmen are on the right path. Subordinates do not expect supervisors to be the flamboyant knight in shining armor leading the military into battle with glorious campaigns under your belt. However, what they do expect is that supervisors apply interactive leadership skills daily and are willing to help guide their career and ensure their needs are met. Simply put, don't fear the challenge of being an engaged caring and courageous leader.