After returning from a deployment in Southwest Asia, I was impressed with the new wing leadership philosophy. I was fortunate enough to attend the 56th Fighter Wing Service Blitz rally at Cardinal Stadium and saw first-hand our new leadership in action. Then came the bombshell … the 56th FW strategic plan.
After having read many strategic plans in my career, many of which I felt had fallen short of the mark, I hesitated to open the plan. However, hesitation gave way to excitement as I began to read. All I can say is, “Wow!” What I had already heard from our leaders and because of the thought and beliefs interwoven into the document, I got excited. I was anxious to share the plan with my airfield management team. What 56th FW leaders have developed in the strategic plan is truly strategic and deserves a deep look.
First, the mission statement and vision statement are complimentary. The mission explains the result of the vision. When we lead the Air Force in developing Airmen and training fighter pilots, we build the future of air power. Being in the operations group makes it simple for me to understand how I fit into mission, but when Airmen across Thunderbolt Nation ask how they can identify with the mission, I remind them they are the future of airpower. When they build leadership skills through community service, private organization participation, and leadership positions, or when they expand technical knowledge through advanced degrees, certifications, even computer-based training, they are building themselves. The correlation comes to reality — in building themselves by enhancing their effectiveness, they are building the future of airpower.
This translates to the chain of command and moves through every level. When we encourage the Airmen we work for to develop themselves and sometimes provide the proverbial push, when we exercise our leadership muscle to build those we are charged to develop, not only are we building the future of airpower in them, but also in ourselves. No Airmen can say they don’t fit into the mission, because each is the future of airpower.
Next comes what makes the mission and vision possible.
It’s no accident the word “We” is plastered on the mission, vision and beliefs. It’s what we value!
We value people first, ideas and then things.
The reality of the power of “We” accentuates our second belief. We are leaders and we work best in teams. I like to consider teamwork as collective genius. It means that every Airmen has a piece of the puzzle and when every piece is assembled, it leads to innovation. Valuing ideas is a great start, but without the collective genius of teamwork, ideas never realize their potential. Ideas are the fuel for innovation, but teamwork ignites ideas into processes and improvements. Teamwork is the engine of innovation.
As Airmen, it’s easy to get caught up in the here and now. The next belief gently pushes us toward focusing on not only the current challenges and impacts of our operations, but becoming strategic in our thought processes. It sets our focus. One of the first things I learned about driving a car was to be aware of what was going on around me, not just right in front of me. I needed to look at the road from a campaign perspective, to anticipate challenges, and make subtle changes that would prevent me from having to overcorrect. By extending our focus to a campaign mindset, we can change our culture and avoid the unnecessary stress to our Airmen that knee-jerk reactions usually cause.
The next belief defines three ways we keep our focus: communication, prioritization and solving problems. Communication is the lubricant of the engine of teamwork. Without clear guidance and communication, our teams fizzle. Teamwork requires all information, both good and bad, to be shared across the team. The reality is that the culture of the Air Force, or any culture for that matter, has significant challenges that must be overcome.
I recently attended a Facility Board Working Group, and I was drawn to the opening slide.
“We can do anything, but we cannot do everything.” This personifies the economic principle of scarcity – a finite amount of resources for what can appear to be an infinite amount of challenges. As stewards of the American tax dollar, we owe it to the American people to prioritize what aspects of culture we focus on.
Finally, communicating and prioritizing does not change anything. We have to place the problems inside of the engine of teamwork and solve them.
The final belief ties up the mission, vision and all the beliefs. I consider it the grand finale. If we value people and ideas over things, if we focus on culture with a campaign mindset, if we communicate, prioritize and solve problems working together in teams, I know we, Thunderbolt Nation, can change the Air Force. The Air Force looks for leadership, innovation, and solutions, and Thunderbolt Nation is made of leaders who will solve problems, create better, faster, and more efficient processes and procedures. Our Air Force will be in a better place because of the 56th Fighter Wing.
Let us go forth guided by an amazing strategic plan that will enable us to build the future of airpower!