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 is appropriate to share some of what I have learned thus far.
First, intentional leadership is vital. Simply put, intentional leadership is making things happen instead of letting things happen. That may sound simple and a little contrite but it is very difficult in practice.
Every leader comes into their “moment” with an expectation of what it is they want to accomplish. Those expectations are oftentimes overcome by other events. The challenge is to maintain sight of your goals and to continuously march toward them.
I suggest that leaders proactively plan a strategy and set to the attack as soon as you can. Opportunities tend to fade quickly as other events start to distract. Additionally, deal with your hard problems methodically. Don’t be in a rush to resolve them. But don’t let them stew on the back burner either.
On the other hand, aggressively resolve the personal issues your people bring to you. They won’t bring you everything, so go after those they do. I found it better to make calls to the appropriate agency/people with them in the room instead of telling them “I’ll get to it as soon as I can.” Keep in mind they didn’t come to you because they wanted to. More often it’s because they weren’t able to resolve their problems on their own and are frustrated, so resolve those issues while in the moment, no matter how busy you feel.
Second, surround yourself with the best people you can. Pride is the most important trait to look for while recruiting new talent. You can always teach people the skills required to accomplish a job, but I’ve found no reliable method for teaching people to have pride in their work. Someone with pride in their work will always strive to get better. Additionally, tell them on day one how they fit into the mission. Doing so gives them confidence to start owning their jobs right away.
Finally, empower them with room to breathe and freedom to make decisions. A consistent message I told my folks was to not be afraid to “press the pickle button.” This is a fighter pilot term that means they have my support to make important decisions in their jobs. No one will know how to accomplish their job better than them.
Finally, and most importantly, enjoy it more. Your folks will feed off your mood, so find ways to have a positive disposition … because not every day will be a blessing. Your family can’t absorb all the frustrations you experience either, so find ways to make your leadership experiences positive for them as well.
I don’t really have any regrets, but as I look back now on the last two years I do think I should have worked harder to enjoy the moments more.