Schriever Air Force Base, Colo. --
Lt. Col. Kevin Amsden is the commander of 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron; having assumed command in April 2017. A graduate of Brigham Young University’s ROTC program, Amsden joined the Air Force in 1999. The 3rd SES is his first command posting. Amsden recently took time to share his thoughts on leadership with public affairs.
What do you feel your strengths and weaknesses are?
I’ve always been more interested in the “big picture” of things. As a leader, this has enabled me to provide a vision to my people, for where we are going – definitely a strength. However, my corresponding weakness is not always being able to know how to bridge the gap from the current state, to the future, in order to achieve my vision. I mitigate this by leveraging the expertise of my talented subordinates – this is a team sport, and I could never accomplish my goals or my vision without my team.
Who is a leader that stands out to you and why?
I am drawn to bold leaders – those who have a vision (which often breaks the status quo), and choose to accept risk in order to accomplish the impossible. In that vein, Gen. Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, stands out to me as a bold leader. Listen to Hyten describe how America’s defense industrial complex has lost the ability to “go fast.” There’s a time and place to play it safe, agreed. However, if our adversaries are moving faster than we are, then we have got to start accepting more risk and keeping (or regaining, in some cases) our strategic advantage!
What aspects of leadership are the most important to nurture?
There’s an old saying, generally attributed to Teddy Roosevelt that says, “People don’t care how much you know, till they know how much you care.” I believe we can take all the leadership classes in existence, learn all the management tools out there, but if we don’t care about our people, we will not be good leaders. If caring about your folks isn’t a natural or inherent quality you possess, then nurture it by spending time to get to know your people. If you don’t care about them, they’ll see right through you.
What common trait do you think all successful leaders have?
I’m not sure if there is – I think every leader is unique.
What do you think is the role of the follower?
We’re in the military; therefore, we have a chain of command, order, structure, etc. Following orders is not optional, and is imperative to our mission. However, following simply because you have to follow will have very limited effectiveness for an organization. If, instead, someone follows their leader because they trust, admire, and care about (i.e. they want their boss to succeed) that person, they will not only follow orders, they will look for ways to better meet the leader’s intent, look for ways to follow in a manner that is above and beyond what was asked, they will help make that organization better than the leader could have even envisioned … and do so in the role of “follower.” Having motivated followers is how an organization can achieve more collectively, than the sum of the members each individually.
What are the significant challenges facing leaders of the future?
From an Air Force perspective, I believe the challenge is too many folks look at leadership as a way for themselves to achieve success (promotion, a better assignment, etc). Again, people are smart, they see right through those shallow motives. Anyone who has ever been in a unit, where the commander clearly cares more about themselves than the members of the unit, will know how detrimental it is to morale – and the effectiveness of the unit suffers. The challenge then is to help our young and aspiring leaders to understand leadership is its own reward, and can only be achieved by caring more about your people than you do about yourself. If you forget yourself in the service of those you lead, you will unwittingly find your true potential as a leader.