Effective leadership crucial in today's Air Force

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Boyce Haywood
  • 4th Contracting Squadron first sergeant
Leadership in today's Air Force is extremely challenging with plans to reduce manpower by 40,000, a constantly shrinking budget and providing continuous support of our nation's efforts in the Global War on Terror. 

As you always hear, flexibility is the key to airpower. Now, flexibility in leadership is just as important. 

As the Air Force continues its transformation, leaders must utilize a variation of leadership styles to influence and direct people to accomplish the mission. 

That is much easier said than done. 

During a time of high operations tempo with increased deployments, compiled with the manning reduction, leadership has the responsibility to keep our Airmen focused and motivated to win America's war. 

How many times have you heard the question, "What is wrong with the Airmen in today's Air Force?" or heard the statement, "The Airmen in today's Air Force are not like they used to be." My response is, there is nothing wrong with the Airmen in today's Air Force. They are smarter, wiser and more mature than their predecessors. 

Maybe the focus should be what is wrong with supervision and leadership instead of our Airmen. Leadership has the ultimate responsibility of molding our Airmen not only to accomplish the mission, but to accomplish it enthusiastically. 

Airmen are a mirror image of their direct leadership. If an Airman observes his leadership not complying with Air Force instruction or Air Force standards, then the Airman will probably follow his leader's guidance. 

Our Airmen want to be led. They want to be successful in their efforts to accomplish the mission. But in order for them to be successful, leadership must properly train, equip and provide them with all the necessary tools and resources to accomplish the mission. A leader must be a leader by setting the example, setting the goals, establishing the environment to achieve success, properly communicating and keeping their leadership skills current with the task. 

Being the leader and setting the example is the key in leadership. An Airman does not want to assume what is expected of him or her. Their expectations need to be thoroughly explained and how it relates to accomplishing the mission. They also need to know how you measure those expectations for success. 

Setting the example does not solely mean knowing the standards, but also meeting compliance. Leaders must practice what they preach. Leadership must fully support and participate in unit fitness programs and maintain currency in their mobility readiness ancilliary training. If leadership cannot meet the Air Force standards, how can we expect and demand our Airmen to do so? 

Setting goals is one of the greatest tasks leaders face today. Leaders must possess the ability to convey to each individual they have a stake in the desired goal. Leaders have to create expectations where ownership and attainment of a goal is personal to each individual. 

Leaders must create an environment within which the Airmen and the unit can succeed. Providing the essential resources, training Airmen and empowering them to do the job will establish such an environment. A leader who recognizes these needs creates an environment in which people become motivated toward goal attainment. This motivation ultimately will yield increased productivity and enhance mission readiness.

Communication is critical in leadership. Ensuring open lines of communication are available is essential to achieve goals at all levels. Providing a process to share ideas, information and feedback will enable effective communication. Leaders must communicate clearly and get directly to the point. To effectively lead our Airmen, it starts with communication. An effective leader's communication instills confidence and trust among subordinates. 

In this time of transition and change, leaders must keep their leadership skills current to the task. As new methods and procedures are developed and employed, such as Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century, leaders need to be prepared to implement new Air Force initiatives. 

Leadership in today's Air Force will continue to exploit opportunities to the fullest extent possible to maximize resources to accomplish the mission, but also strive to maintain the high quality of life our Airmen deserve. This is necessary in order to recapitalize and modernize the Air Force's aging assets and equipment inventories. 

The defense budget is stretched thin due to the war efforts, which means some of those quality of life services we are accustom to, we may no longer have. Service contracts such as grounds maintenance, janitorial and refuse will have decreased service with less frequent performance. It may simply mean grabbing your trash on the way out the door, vacuuming an office or doing some general housekeeping. But those small tasks amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings. 

Leadership has to lead the way. Yes, rank has its privileges, but that doesn't mean that leaders can't roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty if assistance is needed. We all have to pull our weight and then some. 

In today's Air Force, leadership is arguably as critical as it has ever been in the history of the Air Force. Leadership is much more than individuals and their decisions to accomplish the mission. Leadership as a quality may be more innate than acquired, but some qualities can be identified and brought to bear during difficult times like the present, as we continue to fight America's wars. Airmen will only succeed as far as their leadership leads them. 

To quote Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald's, "The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves." 

Leadership is ever-challenging, unpredictable and presents constant change. But the U.S. Air Force is the best trained and equipped air force in the world. We have the best trained pilots, maintainers and support personnel. Additionally, we are the best led Air Force in the world. This is proved daily when the Air Force demonstrates its ability to consistently deliver airpower, on-target, on-time, fighting America's war.