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Now is the time for leadership

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Andy Kaiser
  • Command Chief, Air Mobility Command
Life as an Airman in service to our country is honorable and rewarding. There is no higher calling than to be a part of a group of Americans who pledged their lives in our country's defense. This choice is definitely not for the faint of heart. It takes an exceptional person just to earn the title of Airman, officer or enlisted, and the demands continue to grow the longer we serve. If you are charged with leading other Airmen, whether as a first-line supervisor, NCOIC, flight chief, commander, etc., you have a solemn obligation to serve those you lead with high standards and expectations, true compassion, up-to-date guidance, genuine caring, and most important, by splendid example. While this is always true, now is unquestionably the time for strong and compassionate leadership, considering the amount of "churn" Airmen are experiencing these days.

Our opstempo remains high, with a number of Airmen continuing to deploy at greater than a 1:1 deploy/dwell ratio. If you are not currently deployed, you are carrying heavier buckets of water because many of your teammates are "downrange". We have been executing missions in Afghanistan for over 10 years now and we just completed our mission in Iraq after nearly nine years. Many Airmen have deployed "outside the wire," many in harm's way. Sadly, a number of our Airmen have joined our Soldier, Sailor, and Marine brothers and sisters in the ranks of wounded warriors. And tragically, we have had brave Airmen give the last full measure of devotion to our country.

So yes, these are challenging times to lead. Add to this all the news of ongoing budgetary constraints, the spectre of sequestration on the horizon, its impact on personnel programs, and you have a recipe of great concern for our future. Airmen are asking:
"Will I have a retirement to look forward to?"
"Will I be able to continue serving in our Air Force?"
"Am I affected by the enlisted high year of tenure changes?"
"What do you mean I can't reenlist in my current AFSC?"
"What is a career job reservation constraint?"
Understandably, the list goes on.

All this leads to a point: if there was ever a time for strong, effective, informative, engaging, and compassionate leadership, it is now. We, as leaders, have to anticipate the concerns and issues that will be on the minds of those we lead. Instead of waiting to be asked, we need to be proactive in talking with our Airmen, share what we know and create an environment where our Airmen feel free to approach us with questions, concerns, and opinions on what lies ahead.

In addition to being the epitome of our Air Force core values, leaders at all levels need to manifest three "ilities" - Availability, Visibility, and Approachability. The degree to which we demonstrate these three "ilities" has a direct impact on mission success and Airman wellness. Availability simply means being able to be contacted 24/7. Airmen should be able to reach out to their leaders at any time for mission or personal reasons. Seldom does anyone relish a phone call at 0200, but we have to make it clearly known we want to be contacted at 0200, or any other "inconvenient" time if our Airmen have a need. No harm, no foul.

Another way to define visibility is "Leadership By Wandering About," or LBWA. Our Airmen need to see us all over the environment within our sphere of influence. For example, if we serve at the flight level, we cannot be a stranger to anyone in that flight. While it is true LBWA becomes more challenging as our echelons of service become broader (squadron, group, wing, etc), visibility remains a critical component to effective leadership. Often we discover emerging issues before they are full-blown, and we can "nip it in the bud." Plus, Airmen love to see their leaders on their "home turf" -- it shows they care.

Undergirding availability and visibility is approachability. It does not matter how available we say we are or the degree to which our Airmen see us out and about, if we have not created an atmosphere of approachability in the minds of the Airmen we serve and lead. We will be ineffective at best. However, if we take a genuine personal interest in the betterment of our Airmen and do not "schwack" them the minute they come to us on a matter, they will soon know you are one to go to on any given situation. There is a reason why the following quote endures: "People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care." It endures because it is true.

So in this time of prolonged high opstempo, uncertainty about future end strength, force management programs, and fiscal austerity, the need for strong and compassionate leadership is critical. By being proactive, informative, available, visible, and especially approachable, we will enable our Airmen to navigate through some unchartered waters and come out the other side not just in survival mode, but thriving. To do any less would be a great disservice to those who have pledged their lives to our Nation's defense.