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Learn from the past, prepare for the future

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Penny Spaid
  • 90th Medical Operations Squadron
"It's the toughest job you'll ever love."

That's what I kept hearing from my mentors as I contemplated submitting my application for squadron command. In my earlier years as a military member, I never really thought much about leading a squadron; it just wasn't where I saw myself going in my military career. But 18 years into my profession, I was contemplating that exact move.

Two and a half years later, I find myself more than half way through my command tour, wondering where the time has gone. Two stints as a flight commander, combined with counsel and experience from peers, mentors, and managers along the way, helped prepare me for squadron command.

A large piece of advice that I took from a recent mentor was to put my leadership thoughts into a formal philosophy that could easily be conveyed to those I intend to lead. What at first appeared to be a daunting task, turned out to be quite easy.

Laying out my priorities and leadership philosophy in a simple, one-page document turned out to be a great starting point for introducing myself and what is important to me. Holding introductory luncheons with current employees and meeting with all new employees has helped ensure that they understand the culture of the organization with which they are associated.

One of the most important philosophies I've endeavored to abide by comes from a quote by Theodore Roosevelt: "They don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

For a new leader in an organization, the simple task of getting to know your people and the things that are important to them goes a long way. When your people know that you take an interest in them and what they value, they are much more likely to respond similarly. Additionally, as someone in middle management, you must always work your boss's agenda, but it's equally as important to hear from your people. They often have the best feedback about where to direct your leadership compass. This further increases buy-in from the members of your organization because they are directly contributing to the mission and how it is executed.

An important concept in any well-functioning organization is communication. Team members who are connected to the big picture are much more likely to perform at a high level and effectively contribute to the mission.

Communication is a two-way street. It is vitally important that information not only be communicated properly, but that information must be understood correctly. As leaders, we must use all clues and signs to ensure that information is being appropriately disseminated and interpreted throughout the organization.

Continually emphasizing teamwork and leadership at all levels is a must. All organizational members, not just those in formal positions, can be leaders. Great organizations are composed of team members who are committed to the mission and bring forth great ideas to contribute to operational effectiveness and efficiency. Not all thoughts or suggestions will result in implementation, but lack of individual creativity and initiative will stifle forward momentum of an organization.

A final important concept very closely related to teamwork is exemplified by the famous quote from Army Gen. George Marshall: "There is no limit to the good you can do if you don't care who gets the credit."

Do the right things for the right reason, and positive consequences will naturally follow. Sounds an awful lot like integrity, something those of us in the military should be intimately familiar with.