Leadership Perspectives: 50th Force Support Squadron commander

Lt. Col. Mark Cipolla

Lt. Col. Mark Cipolla

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- 1. How would you describe your leadership style?

I try to have a direct, transparent, common-sense based, forward-thinking and customer-focused leadership style. I lead with the mindset every officer should have; try to take on traits from awesome commanders, supervisors and other leaders you cross paths with over the years, and at the same time be aware of the negative traits you want to avoid. Being mission support for most of my career, my leadership style needs to balance the support we provide to the warfighter, while balancing the support I provide to my personnel providing that support. At the end of the day, a leadership style is only effective if you turn around and see people are still willing to follow you.

2. What was your motivation for joining the Air Force and where did you start your career?

I had several family members who served in the military, including my father serving one term in the Air Force. After numerous conversations with them, I enlisted in the Air Force just three months after graduation. I was looking for something bigger than my options in Rhode Island. I enlisted in September 1989, and started my career as a Security Forces Airman Basic (law enforcement back then) at Royal Air Force Chicksands, United Kingdom, in January, 1990. Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm kicked-off later that year and matured a sheltered New England 19 year old pretty quickly.

3. Who is a leader who stands out to you and why?

Recently retired Lt. Gen. Gina Grosso was my wing commander when I was a flight commander, and I worked for her again at the Pentagon. Since I first worked for her, she has always held a critical position and yet understood the balance she needed to have between job responsibilities and family. More importantly, she knew the balance that was important for the people who worked for her. A simple statement at the end of the day when what needed to be accomplished was completed; “Mark, go home, Kathy has made dinner and the boys want to play with you.” That showed me all I need to see; the job is important, but you have other responsibilities that need your attention.

4. What are your hobbies, past times or skills you might have and what draws you to them?

Over the last 21 years, my hobbies have revolved around family. Whether it has been coaching sports that my boys played, or going to their school. Anything we could do together outside; hiking, going to zoos, parks and aquariums, going to the beach, touring the Washington D.C. area around all the monuments and museums for three years. I was drawn to anything the four of us wanted to do. Now as new empty-nesters with both of them in college, and stationed west of the Mississippi for the first time in nearly 28 years, the two of us are going to travel these big, square states a bit and enjoy the mountains. Maybe the New England kid who grew up skiing, will teach his Ohio gal to ski.

5. What aspects of leadership are the most important to nurture?

Mentorship -- the training and development accomplished through mentorship is critical to ensure we are using our experiences and knowledge to better prepare our replacements (the future of the Air Force). To me, this is the best aspect of leadership to nuture… just ask an FSS member, I love to mentor through “talking” about my experiences; every once in a while I listen also.

6. How do you prepare junior Airmen for leadership roles?

Every role is an opportunity to display leadership, but until they complete Airman Leadership School and start supervising, opportunities could include physical training leader duty (seeing them lead higher ranking personnel through a session; how they motivate), briefing leadership on work procedures, getting them out of their comfort zone and watch them rise to the challenge. Most importantly, spending time with them in mentorship to help them understand the affect their current role has at the strategic and operational levels.

7. What is an action or routine that needs to be done every day?

The routine I have always tried to keep since I have commissioned is MBWA – Management By Walking Around; getting out of my office and away from the phone and emails. Now as a commander, that is even more critical. I can manage and answer emails later in the afternoon and into the evening, but I cannot always get around to the FSS facilities and witness all the great things my people are accomplishing when they are supporting Schriever employees and their family members. Making sure they are taken care of both professionally and personally; making sure they have the resources needed to accomplish their daily mission.

8. What common trait do you think all successful leaders have?

Passion – successful leaders, both in the military and in the civilian sector, always display a passion that drives them to make something better; to come up with innovative ideas to make something more effective. This passion also shows those who work around you or for you that you care about what program you are working; in the FSS, it is not just simply working 45 sponsor RIPs; it is taking care of 45 Airmen who may not know anything about Schriever and need to have someone stationed here to ask critical family-related questions; or at the child development center, it is not just watching children or babysitting; it is providing an educational program for children whose parents need to concentrate on the Schriever mission.