Successful empowerment requires positive communication

Lt. Col. Sherman Johns, 4th Space Operations Squadron commander

Lt. Col. Sherman Johns, 4th Space Operations Squadron commander

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- I firmly believe in encouraging decision-making at the lowest possible leadership level: this allows our organizations to stay fluid and agile to defeat a broad spectrum of challenges in a transient environment. Leaders at the lowest levels are typically the first to observe and orient to a situation: an Airman may be struggling to cope with the loss of a sister or an adversary may develop an advanced new capability to threaten our missions. With proper commander’s intent, training and most importantly empowerment, these leaders can quickly decide on courses of action and execute plans to respond to issues, such as a supervisor may counsel a grieving member or a tactician may save billions of dollars of Air Force space hardware.

However, with authority comes responsibility. One of these responsibilities is communicating up and down the chain of command. While supervisors must define priorities and provide context for subordinates, subordinates must relay appropriate information back to their supervisors on the decisions made and actions taken. This synchronizes supervisors with their subordinates and provides both with an up-to-date picture of the environment in which the subordinate is operating; it also allows the supervisor to adjust priorities and provide feedback to the subordinate for future decision-making.

This communication must be a two-way street—just as information flows downwards, information must also flow back up. Organizations stall when either one direction of communication pauses. Issues begin to appear that supervisors are not expecting, and subordinates begin to lose confidence in the stagnating guidance they have been provided.

Communication is one of the first skills we learn in our lives; it is also the hardest to master. Thus, complacency serves us poorly, and we must all take deliberate action to improve our communication habits.

Team 5-0—one team, one fight. We fight best when we ensure positive communication and empower our Airmen to make decisions and innovate in order to counter potential space and cyber threats in a timely fashion.