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Leadership Fundamentals

  • Published
  • By Maj. Amy M. Rivera
  • 90th Security Forces Squadron commander
As we reflect on last previous year and our continuously transforming Air Force, it is imperative that we remember a basic fundamental premise; leadership is about people and forging professional relationships.

It is growing more and more important to connect and relate to our Airmen with open and honest communication at the forefront. If there is anything that sequestration, force shaping and changes to the evaluations process has taught us, it is that we can no longer afford to shy away from the tough conversations and continuous feedback.

Today's Airmen are smart and technologically savvy; they want to know the "why" and have at least a glimpse of the big picture. Gone are the days that leaders can give an order with the only "why" being "because I said so." Leaders and supervisors must establish a foundation of trust and open lines of communication.

Even with years of experience leading and shelves of books on the subject, leadership is not always easy. Hundreds and thousands of books exist on the subject; everything from servant leadership to transformational leadership.

Though helpful resources, the secret to leadership is not on the bookshelves at Barnes and Nobles or on the Chief of Staff's reading list. The secret to leadership is five simple steps:

· Expectations
· Skills
· Feedback
· Consequences
· Growth 

Keep in mind these came from lessons I learned 17 years ago in a cadet curriculum course at the Air Force Academy, and it has stuck with me ever since. I still have my Leadership Development Manual; that's how much of an impact this leadership lesson had on my development.

According to the Leadership Development Manual, leadership encompasses these five cyclic steps. They build mutual respect with subordinates and maximize the working relationship.

At first glance, it is common sense. But as we have probably all witnessed, common sense isn't always so common. Do not stop at simply agreeing with it, but apply them. If more people resorted to the basic steps and foundations of leadership and mutual respect, today's Air Force would certainly be a better place to live, learn, work and play.

Leaders tend to forget to first establish the expectations and communicate those clearly and effectively to subordinates. That is where sponsorship, orientation and the initial feedback come into play.

Commander's intent, flight chief goals and expectations, duty position roles and responsibilities, supervisor rapport and initial feedback cannot be hasty, incomplete or overlooked.

Leaders and supervisors cannot assume that Airman know what is expected, they have to clearly communicate and set forth those expectations. It sets the tone from the get-go and completes the first critical step and the foundation for mutual respect.

The second step leaders tend to forget is to provide the skills and feedback so that Airmen excel and contribute to the mission. Leaders are hasty to jump right to consequences, without realizing they have a stake in the mission and an Airmen's performance.

Skills and feedback are essential ingredients to forge an Airman's skillset. It is a team effort and the burden is not always on an individual Airman alone, but on several.

We've all heard the cliché, "it takes a village to raise a child." Arguably, it takes a team to raise an Airman.

The fundamentals of leadership applies to everyone on the team including enlisted, officers and civilians. Accountability is at all levels. Remember to utilize the same steps with everyone to ensure they are doing their part to lead and develop others.

The final disregarded step is one of the most important steps, growth. Leadership is inspiring greatness in others. It's mentoring and developing Airman to replace us. It's a continuous journey, and as careers progress, growth is inevitable to reach our full potential.

Both positive and negative feedback result in growth. Consequences are negative, though intended as minimum means necessary to cease or change negative behavior. Remember discipline and documentation should be rehabilitative in nature, intended to change behavior and re-vector an Airman's path to success. We should always expect to see an Airman grow and learn from their mistakes.

The going in, Course of Action 1, Plan A is to keep them on board and watch them grow. Only as a last resort, when several attempts at rehabilitation have garnered no change in behavior or work ethic, should we expect zero growth.

Consequences and growth result in the start of another cycle with adjusted expectations, skills, and feedback to get an Airman back on course and in line with organizational goals and mission success.

We cannot simply write-off a member who is off course or in need of re-vectoring. If several attempts at rehabilitation garnered no change, then we utilize expectations, skills and feedback to transition that Airman to be a productive member of society outside the Air Force. Our efforts as leaders continue until the last day a member is a part of our team.

If consequences are not required, we stand back and watch new leaders grow and reward that growth.

A leader's job is never complete. It is continuous and constant. Leadership starts at the top, with leadership by example, and exists at all levels, regardless of rank. It is not easy and not for the faint hearted, but it is one of the most rewarding aspects of military service and something not to be taken lightly.

Today's discussion should serve as a reminder of what is important, an executive summary of sorts, highlighting the most basic roles and responsibilities as a leader in today's Air Force.

For 17 years this has been my mantra and I wished simply to share in the hopes of getting back to the basics as we navigate changes in our nation and our Air Force over the next several years.

I offer to you an emphasis on the basic fundamentals of leadership and a newfound resolve to focus on feedback and the tough conversations needed to navigate a smaller, smarter and more agile, combat ready Air Force into the future.