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NEWS | Dec. 4, 2012

Intentional leadership

By Chief Master Sgt. Sean Strong Air National Guard Recruiting and Retention

In a recent article, CMSAF Roy: 'Future is now', provided by the Air Force News Service, Chief Master Sgt. James A. Roy said, "Air Force leaders must ensure future enlisted leaders are skilled in things like leadership and communication - the institutional competencies that are essential to any career."

It is an unfortunate fact of life that the "tyranny of the urgent" can cause this intentional type of leadership to take a back seat or even be forgotten amidst all of the "fires" that we need to put out. It is for this very reason we should now pause and take an honest inventory of how well we are doing at cultivating leadership and communication in ourselves and in others. As Airmen, we need to be mindful of the need to exercise intentional leadership.

Intentional leadership springs from a mindset that views every exchange with others as an opportunity to make an investment in that person. Often, the assumption is that leaders intuitively know they are to be purposeful in growing the next generation of leaders. This assumption however, may lead to disappointment. We as leaders must be purposeful in cultivating leadership and communication skills in those who will eventually be sitting in our chair. A review of Air Force Doctrine Document 1-1 will bear this out. But, what does this look like in practical application?

Not every exchange we have with an Airman or NCO will morph into a career-altering mentoring session, but having our eyes open for those opportunities is a great start. First, observe and listen to those communicating around you by phone or by e-mail. Many teachable moments can be found in our everyday routines. Is their communication professional, cordial and to the point? How is their tone? If you find room for improvement you could start the conversation with, "I'd like to give you some feedback" or, "I couldn't help but overhear you" or, "you know, your e-mail came across as rude -you may not have meant it that way but..." Give constructive feedback given in a genuine and friendly tone; unless it warrants a different one. If this is a lesson that you learned yourself as a younger Airman or NCO, share that story. This way, they understand that you've had to learn the same lessons. Remember, the goal is to make an investment in this person and whenever possible they should see it that way.

Second, lead by example. As a leader, I cannot lead anyone north if I am heading west. We need to ensure that we are walking the same path we expect them to follow. Set the example and take a look to ensure that you haven't gotten lax or lazy in your own communication. Tone matters whether we are communicating up or down the chain and the way we communicate is foundational to our ability to lead.

Personal power, built upon a leader's intentional investment in others, helps them inspire and motivate folks internally - people follow because they want to. In contrast, leaders that rely too heavily on positional power, their rank or title, find their influence diminished, commitment levels lacking and followership suffering.

Think of it this way; what makes the difference between a very successful team captain and one that is mediocre? Personal power. While both may hold the same position and have the same skills, the one with greater personal power is better able to rally the team to accomplish the goal. As leaders our ability to inspire, motivate and cultivate deep commitment on the easy days, creates the fuel to help people dig deep and accomplish the mission on the hard days.

Third, cultivate relationships. While you may not be able to take a lot of time to learn every person in depth, give them what you can when you can. Focus in, and if you only have a minute or two, invest those minutes, show interest and connect. Doing this builds trust that bridges the gap between personal power and positional power; the difference between your words being received or rejected. Finally, while I am a firm believer in a nurturing style of leadership, some things are just wrong. In those cases we must have the courage to jump in it and fix it with less touchy-feely methods. There is definitely a place for that, but even then, our focus should be for the better development of a future leader. 

I encourage you to be an intentional leader. Keep your eyes open and antennas up for those opportunities to mentor and invest in folks. Offer sage advice on how they can improve, catch them doing something good and mention it. Set your standards high, clearly communicate the importance of the institutional competencies of leadership and communication and consistently model them. In doing so, we will be leading our Airmen down this very same path so eventually they will be the ones doing the investing.

Click to read, CMSAF Roy: Future is now.