Commentary

April 11, 2014

Three steps to avoid ‘toxic leadership’

Lt. Col. CHRISTOPHER BACON
308th Fighter Squadron

Toxic leadership. Sadly, this term has recently become vogue in the lexicon of the Defense Department to describe leaders possessing unfavorable leadership characteristics and whose actions eventually rot an organization from the inside out. Examples of these leaders drape across the weekly headlines and sound bites of newspapers, radio and television.

“Leaders” who become drunk and disorderly on foreign delegations, mistreat and bully their staff, and turn a blind eye to condone clear infractions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice are examples of failed leaders. Most of us fall far from the criteria defining toxic, but I have a feeling that the pathway to poor leadership is more insidious and sometimes difficult to detect over a period of years. The following three simple steps may help keep you off the front page of the Washington Post.

Be competent. Leadership is difficult under even the best of circumstances, but it is nearly impossible if the leader is inept at the core primary function. Some of us have likely suffered under the leadership of someone unable to execute their primary duty, whether it was flying jets, apprehending criminals, balancing a budget or executing contracts. Misery! Take the time to study your core job fundamentals and stay ahead of the latest tactics, techniques and procedures associated with your career field. Show your people how it is done, set the example and lead from the front.

Be available. As a senior at the U.S. Air Force Academy, I had the “honor” of serving under a major that would routinely turn away cadets from his office because he was busy eating lunch. Really? I was rightly shocked at this officer’s decision to dismiss me and my fellow cadets because he needed to fill his stomach. As leaders, we are extremely busy, and it seems every minute in the work day is precious. If necessary, schedule time in your day to be available to the members of the unit. Unless you’re completely swamped or in a private meeting, I personally keep my office door to the hallway open and encourage folks to stop by and let me know what is on their minds.

Be empathetic. As Ian McLaren wrote, “Be kind, because everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” In the Air Force, we have been engaged in expeditionary war for years. Post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, divorce and depression haunt many of our Airmen. The list of potential traumas does not stop at these examples. Pause and reflect on the past experiences of your people and try to put their lives and struggles into context. Before passing judgment on a superior, peer or subordinate, walk a mile in their shoes. Always uphold military standards, but recognize and appreciate the personal battle they are waging behind the scenes.

We owe it to our people to lead effectively and provide a nontoxic work environment. The Air Force is approaching a crossroads with respect to our identity among the services. Our most valuable asset is our Airmen and this precious resource is in the hands of leaders. It should not be abused.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Knocking it out of park means excellence

Over the past several years the Defense Department has seen an unprecedented reduction in force. Twenty years ago when I was a young Airman learning the Air Force ropes, our active-duty force was more than 421,000 strong. Today, our end strength stands at just over 323,000 Airmen, a reduction of roughly 100,000 personnel. Because of...
 
 

Gut check: Where do you stand?

Since the beginning of our Air Force careers, the majority of us have been taught that in order to lead, we need to lead by example and lead from the front. Today, that has not changed. However, as we all know, it is virtually impossible for all to be in front at the same time,...
 
 

Changing your communication default settings

In today’s high tech world, it’s easy to become entrenched in the communication tools that are designed to make our lives simpler and more organized. Ironically, the technology that was created to increase our efficiency has a tendency to detract from our communication within an organization. When we unconsciously set our default communication settings to...
 

 

Chaplain’s Thoughts

Laughter and leadership I have an old high school buddy I keep tabs on through Facebook. I know, the cool kids are on Twitter, but read on anyway. We have this freedom to pick on each other in a variety of ways from our greying and/or balding heads, to old-man jokes, to the fact that...
 
 
Final-Fantasy-X

Fly Over: ‘Chipotle Mexican Grill’ and ‘Final Fantasy X’

‘Chipotle Mexican Grill’ Chipotle is a place of Americanized Mexican food where customers can get freshly made food within a reasonable amount of time and at a good price. Founded by Steve Ells in 1993, Chipotle began in Co...
 
 

Intentional leaders make things happen

As I write this column I am within 48 hours of closing out my squadron command. Like most people who find themselves at the end of a long journey, I am retrospective about what I’ve learned. As such, I feel I have a unique perspective on command, more specifically on leadership. So I think it...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>


Directory powered by Business Directory Plugin