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My first Air Command and Staff College essay will summarize my leadership philosophy and style, summarize a commander interview concerning leading a squadron though a worldwide pandemic, and then provide an analysis of that interview. I have served in the Air Force for over fifteen years as an enlisted NCO and commissioned officer and have seen a variety of leadership styles, both good and bad. In developing my leadership style, I have tried to implement things that I have learned from all my previous leaders, for both what to do and what not to do.
I plan to trust those working under my leadership to do their jobs, and to do the right thing for the right reason. With this in mind I want everyone I work with to know that if they do their job, and do the right thing for the right reason, I will have their back no matter what. To be a commander of any squadron must be overwhelming at times, but a flying squadron comes with even more weight when you factor in the difficulty and hazards that aviation add.
If I was the commander of my current squadron, I don’t know that I would be able to manage all my responsibility without trusting those around me. My leadership philosophy will be centered around communication, integrity, empowerment, and empathy. I plan to always communicate my vision to those around me, I never want them to question what the focus of our mission is. I will empower those working with me to do their job and allow them the latitude to work to their highest potential.
I have seen to many leaders in the past that failed to delegate and empower their people, this led to long nights and heavy workloads for those individuals. I am self-aware enough to know this is not a sustainable style, nor will it increase the productivity of the unit, or the quality of the work. To me integrity, one of our core values, is of the utmost importance, and the way to include that in a leadership philosophy is to follow it no matter what and hold those around you to the same standard. It takes a long time to build trust among a group, and one simple breach of integrity to lose it. Integrity falls in line with one of the main bases of my style, doing the right thing for the right reasons.
I have not been able to pinpoint which category my leadership style falls under, as I feel like my style is somewhat flexible, and will require me to adapt to each team, individual and situation. One concern that I do have with my leadership style is that I do not want to give the impression that I have favorites or don’t treat everyone as equals. I think that it will be very important for me establish credibility early on and continually take opportunities to reinforce my stance. A second concern of mine when it comes to my leadership style is that I may come off as so laid back that I will allow people to get away with things other leaders may not, and that people would be almost too comfortable around me. Enforcing the standards and setting clear expectations early on will be paramount in combating this potential issue. For the next part of this assignment, I interviewed my previous squadron commander who admire, and who has a very similar leadership style as myself. I worked with this squadron commander for the entire duration of my assignment, while he was the director of operations, and later when he took command of the squadron. We first talked big picture about what it was like leading one of the largest flying training squadrons in the Air Force, and the only one that teaches the specific phases in our syllabi. As most things in todays world do, our conversation turned to COVID quickly and that dominated most of our conversation, since his entire command has taken place since the pandemic started. While knew that it had to be difficult to navigate this environment, I was somewhat overwhelmed when I got a peak behind the curtain of all that was going on in our squadron.
One of the most intense situations to me was the fact that we have almost three fourths of our civilian personnel that would be willing to walk away depending on what mandates come down from the DOD. If this were to happen it would bring the entire training program to a screeching halt. He was tasked by the group commander to develop a plan for if the civilians did in fact walk away, and he continually said that it was keeping him up at night trying to figure out a plan. The growing uncertainty of what was happening and the fact that we had been labeled as mission critical to continue our training made things very difficult. We had wide varying opinions on how things should be running in the squadron, and while I feel that he and I were on the same page, there were a lot of people in the squadron that believed that his guidance was being to relaxed, or that he wasn’t enforcing the rules appropriately. This was a huge shock to me having been around the squadron for a while and knowing most of the rest of the squadron very well. Having a plan for dealing with the spread of the virus was almost impossible with the guidance constantly changing from leadership outside of the squadron. It appears communication from the squadron up flowed very well, but the group did not communicate down very well, or communicate what was happening within the other squadrons in the group.
Having control of the students during the most crucial portion of their training gave him the ability to develop procedures and guidelines for dealing with the spread while maintaining operations, and eventually these procedures were adopted group wide. The squadron commander explained that his plan to deal with the situation was to over-communicate and listen to every one’s concern with an open mind. There was no way to make everyone understand, but by reassuring us that the risks we were taking are vital to the success of our mission. He has done his best to provide the resources and supplies that we need to mitigate the risk and accomplish our mission. Reminding us that we all took an oath, that our jobs could never be without risks, and leadership was doing everything in their power to take care of us was one of the ways he was trying to handle this trying time. I walked away from the interview knowing that I made a good decision when I chose to interview him, my leadership style is more like his than I initially realized. I mentioned that I feel like my leadership style almost directly reflects his, and after my analysis of the interview I am even more confident that is true.
While I hope that I never have to lead a squadron through a global pandemic, I would hope that I am able to be as successful as he has been during the pandemic. I looked at the bigger picture and remembered some of my past interactions with him before and after he took command, and I quickly realized that he was the same person, and carried himself the same way. I have also looked at other individuals that I have worked with over my career, and I have realized that the ones that I most admire, and want to emulate are very similar to this commander. To conclude, I have found that my leadership is based on a few basic, but important values, or as some may say, golden rules. I must be myself and treat everyone how I would want them to treat me if the roles were reversed. No two situations or people are the same and you must take this into account when you are making decisions about them. I must be myself and communicate that when I make a decision, it stems from good intentions, and that I’m doing the right thing for the right reason with the information I have at the time. Understanding that I must own whatever situation arises from a decision that I make, no matter what that entails.
I have only recently been put into more leadership roles and it is forcing me to get out of my comfort zone, I have even had a noticeable sense of growth in the short time I have been in these positions. Realizing that I should have more confidence in myself as a leader, and that being myself and sticking to my own personal leadership style is going to take me places, and I will do a great job taking care of my people. I did not know how far I planned to go in the Air Force, but with the experience and skills I have gained over the last few years I can see myself thriving in a command position. A large part of why I feel this way is from being around some amazing commander role models, and realizing that I am more like them than I originally thought.
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