JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. — Technology has revolutionized our lives and the Air Force. Our high-tech culture and military are capable of unprecedented effectiveness and agility due to the speed of communication. In many facets of our personal and professional lives, technology gives us the ability to communicate rapidly and accomplish a variety of tasks with minimal personal interaction. However, this high-tech world introduces a risk of leaders losing touch with those under their command. To reduce the potential of technological isolationism, leaders must focus on using high-touch tactics, including learning about subordinates, providing continuous performance feedback and taking ownership of the organization’s actions.
Leaders cannot lead effectively by sending a barrage of e-mails; it takes time, effort, creativity and, most of all, requires genuinely caring about the welfare and development of their personnel. In the age of social media and mass e-mails, it is easy to think we know people based on what we see on a computer screen but learning about an individual demands face-to-face interaction, understanding their non-verbal communications and gauging their motivations. Only through the process of learning about an individual can leaders understand how to motivate and mentor their Airmen to achieve excellence.
Deliberate performance feedback is critical to correcting substandard performance, rewarding excellence and putting individuals on a path to being outstanding contributors to the goals of the organization. Virtual feedback is not sufficient. Performance feedback must be a face-to-face communication capitalizing on the knowledge a leader gains from learning about the subordinate. It is easy for leaders to think they provide continuous feedback because they give guidance via e-mail or through another virtual means but those mechanisms are ineffective in comparison to focused personal interactions aimed at guidance and mentorship. Without engaging in interactive and personal performance feedback, leaders risk abdicating the responsibility of taking unbiased ownership of each member’s actions.
A critical component of effective leadership is taking complete ownership of the intent and execution of the organization’s mission. One can only achieve such ownership through high-touch interactions. In an age of digital work accomplishment and communication, a leader can fail to take responsibility for subordinates’ work. Many times that failing is due to not wanting to micromanage Airmen, a noble intent. However, a leader can make the motivation clearer by involving themselves in their subordinates’ actions personally instead of virtually. Additionally, being involved personally, leaders enable an open dialogue which enhances communications of intent.
The technological revolution our society has undertaken over the past few decades is awesome and the application of new technologies has contributed to the U. S. Air Force’s dominance in air, space and cyberspace. However, we must never forget our people are, and will always be, our greatest asset. Regardless of the generation, people are best understood by, mentored by and led by people … not ones and zeros. A high-tech organization deserves high-touch leadership to maximize the effectiveness of its people.