Leadership is a team sport

Lt. Col. Timothy Ryan, 4th Space Operations Squadron commander

Lt. Col. Timothy Ryan, 4th Space Operations Squadron commander


To prepare for this commentary, I reflected on my first year in command - all the good and bad. As I did this, one thing stood out in each scenario; I did nothing alone. For each situation and every decision, I had the 4th SOPS leadership team with me. The wise advice and different perspectives ensured I made decisions that were not about me, but what was best for the Airmen and the squadron. 

One thing is for sure, any success my team had was because we did it together. Just like in baseball, any teammate could have the chance to hit or catch the ball. However, one action alone will not lead the team to a win, it takes the whole team to accomplish that, much like our actions in a squadron. If one teammate is hitting “homeruns,” but the rest of the team is in a hitting slump, that is not the formula for success. 

Successful teams support and lift each other up. This can be accomplished through encouragement, coaching and developing an environment for success. Teams also understand no one solution fits all scenarios or all players. Decisions have to be in the best interest of the team and our teammates. This is no different from how we lead in a successful squadron. This isn’t only demonstrated in a squadron when bad things happen, but also when we correct and take the time to teach our teammates how to do and be better.

The last attribute of successful teams is cohesion. It takes time for teams to gel. After all, these are individual people who need to buy into the team’s goals and direction. Additionally, many teams have teammates who come and go over the arc of time, but can continue to succeed. This is because they have developed an environment that allows for teamwork, encouragement, cohesion and a focus on team, not individual success.

NBA Hall of Famer, Larry Bird, is quoted as saying, “Leadership is getting players to believe in you. If you tell a teammate you’re ready to play as tough as you’re able to, you’d better go out there and do it. Players will see right through a phony. And they can tell when you’re not giving it all you’ve got.” My leadership team and squadron teammates know this and together we strive to develop this environment. We win and lose together, but through it all we encourage, develop and coach. Each of us brings unique skills, perspectives and abilities. When we harness them together and remember it is never about the individual, we develop the cohesion needed to be successful. We also recognize this learning can come from many different places. Former Baltimore Ravens coach, Brian Billick summarizes this well, “Our success in some areas could be from something else that we’ve seen other teams do and copied from them.”

“Lead well, lead fast and make history.”