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NEWS | April 18, 2011

From the Top - Leading Transformation During Times of Change

By Lt. Col. Christopher Daniels 11th Contracting Squadron commander

Abraham Lincoln once said, "You may fool all the people some of the time, you can even fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time." As a squadron commander, those words ring true. From joint base initiation, to mission movement execution, to compliance inspection preparation, to budget limitations, transformation and change are inevitable. The fact is change has become the rule rather than the exception. Regardless of how superb the leader, the merits of the situation, or how articulate the leader may be, it is impossible to convince all of the people all of the time and perhaps not even some of the time that change is good. Although this can be troubling, it is really the perfect opportunity to develop a collaborative environment to strategically counteract the fear of the unknown.

Transformation is nothing new to astute Air Force leaders who have vision and recognize that organizations cannot thrive while rehashing yesterday's operational practices. A defined vision has multiple functions; it sparks motivation, fosters innovation, filters how the organization is doing, and offers sound rationale for the changes the organization will have to undergo. All of us come from backgrounds where technical, business, or war fighting skills are vital, but professional expertise provides little assistance when having to lead people through change. A change in leadership skills must be consistent with, capitalize and build on the leader's own strengths and talents.

As leaders, we must adapt our leadership approach to address change and seek feedback from the people we lead. It is a role far more interpersonal than one might imagine. This entails several different actions. Allow organization members to make changes in their areas of involvement. Modify the way in which the work is organized and place people where the effort is needed. Free up key people from existing responsibilities so they can concentrate on the endeavor. Bottom line; remove any obstacles that are impeding change. You may not get rid of every obstacle; nonetheless, the biggest ones need to be dealt with. Nothing is more frustrating than believing in transformation, but then not having the time, money, or support required to enable it. When the necessary resources are easily accessible, real change will start to happen.

In today's Air Force, without grasping and proactively integrating change, a leader cannot sustain their organization for very long. The greatest leadership models implicitly address the challenge of transformation; they are well-prepared and deliver tangible results. The final solution may not be immediate and take time; despite that, steady leadership will garner transformation success. The process of change holds for leadership the relationship between a leader and those we lead. Is leading from the front ideal? What about the rear? Or is leading from the center by which the leader empowers each person appropriate? It depends. However, from my experience, during a time of transformation, the most effective leader plans and achieves short-term gains which people can see, celebrate, and be a part of. Issues commonly diagnosed as organization challenges are usually a treatable symptom of change. People have to be helped to make the connection between the effort and the desired outcome. The leadership cure is to simply establish a clear and concise vision along with obtaining individual commitment at every level that is both reassuring and rewarding for all.