SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Recently, I took a trip to the summit of Pike’s Peak. During the one-and-a-half-hour railway journey up the mountainside, a fellow passenger started talking to me to pass the time. Inevitably, the passenger asked questions about what I do for a living. I identified myself as a member of the United States Air Force, which prompted him to ask whether I flew, fixed or supported aircraft. I explained I serve in a supporting role as a member of the 50th Force Support Squadron, but that was not the best answer I could or should have offered. In reality, all three roles/types are inextricably linked. Operators, maintainers and support personnel are part of an interdependent “system of systems,” which provides more efficiency and functionality than a simple sum of its parts. The Air Force needs leadership in each community in order to thrive and maintain its position as the strongest air force in the world.
Leading Airmen in any capacity presents a daunting challenge. Regardless of functional expertise or experience level, we all occasionally find ourselves in leadership positions. Leading involves guiding, supporting and serving others as we carry out our mission. Leaders are responsible for developing people to perpetuate a legacy of excellence. Leadership is a balancing act between caring for Airmen and their families, and maintaining mission focus. Great leaders have the ability to inculcate an Airmen culture, which can serve as the organization’s driving force. Developing this culture makes carrying out organizational tasks much less of a challenge.
An integral part of creating the aforementioned culture is connecting tasks Airmen perform to the overall operation. The people you lead need to understand how they fit into the big picture and how their efforts contribute to the mission. The connective tissue leaders build between task and mission motivates Airmen to perform to the absolute best of their ability. Our wing’s mission of commanding space and cyber systems to deliver global combat effects cannot be accomplished without the support of a multitude of interdependent systems including operations, maintenance and support elements.
Leaders are inherently motivators, and motivated Airmen accomplish amazing things. Airmen are motivated when their efforts are recognized and valued. When leaders fully understand the ties between tasks and mission, they are better postured to appropriately recognize and value the individual or team effort as a vital component of the operation. You will inevitably be asked to lead co-workers, peers and subordinates to perform any number of tasks. You must get to know your people and what motivates them, listen to them, and set expectations based on collective ties to the overall mission.
Whether you defend the base, deliver critical infrastructure, develop Airmen and family resiliency, secure communications networks or operate satellites, leadership is necessary at all levels. Your leadership serves as the crucial underpinning to building effective teams of Airmen who will embrace our interdependent culture. Through guiding, supporting and serving others, every leader’s goal should be to help build a lasting legacy of confident, competent warriors who will ready to lead future generations of Airmen. If I ever happen to be on the Pike’s Peak railway again and a commuter asks me if I fly, fix, or support aircraft, a more accurate answer might be a simple “yes.” One team, one fight, and one mission we accomplish together.