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At the Next Level: Growing as a Leader

Airmen assigned to the 144th Fighter Wing salute the official party at the Assumption of Command ceremony for Col. Jeremiah Cruz,144th Fighter Wing commander, at the Fresno Air National Guard Base Oct. 2, 2019. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Charles Vaughn)

Airmen assigned to the 144th Fighter Wing salute the official party at the Assumption of Command ceremony for Col. Jeremiah Cruz,144th Fighter Wing commander, at the Fresno Air National Guard Base Oct. 2, 2019. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Charles Vaughn)

Fresno Air National Guard, Calif. --

At the beginning of the year our Security Forces Squadron Chief, Chief Master Sgt. Adrian Davis, deployed on short-notice to fill an ANG tasking, which left me as acting SFS manager. Let me start by saying that the position is nothing short of demanding, and I would be a liar if I said I knew exactly what I was getting into.

Not only does an ANG Security Forces Manager oversee the health, morale, and welfare of enlisted Defenders, but he or she normally represents the squadron on a full-time basis for the drill status commander. Essentially, that means one must be good with people and a subject matter expert, and the margin for error is small. Quite often, we look at our leaders with unrealistic expectations, thinking, “This person is a chief/ commander/ superintendent, he/ she must have all of the answers.” That perception couldn’t be any further from reality! You are not magically gifted with knowledge the day you promote, you cannot go to a class and learn how to be a leader, and there is no secret recipe. My opinion is simple; as leaders we are the sum total of the training received coupled with our experience of putting those leadership principles into play.

Leadership training is theoretical and the principals you apply must be adaptive to the circumstance, personalities involved, the mission, the environment, and exigency of circumstance. I could write for days about books I have read or classes I have attended, but in my opinion, the real gem sits in our existing Professional Military Education training courses, and the best leadership style is known as Full-Range Leadership. FRL is an adaptive approach to leadership, one that takes into account the totality of circumstances a leader faces, including the subordinate’s experience. It requires leaders to adapt their style to the situation, as opposed to relying on only an authoritarian style. Of course, PME alone is not the answer to being a good leader, but it can help, and in-residence attendance is even more helpful.

Leadership requires proper training, but all of the leadership training in the world will make no difference without practical application. The truth is, we have to make our own practical application opportunities and be willing to face the reality that failures will occur. As I grew in my career and promoted, I put into practice the principals learned as a PME student and instructor, as well as the theories of authors whom I read. For me, this was a deliberate approach to growth as opposed to waiting to figure it out one day when I was placed in a leadership position. I urge everyone: don’t wait for the day that you put on the next rank to start developing your leadership style; do it now! Perhaps I took that approach because I watched pervious leaders, and even some peers, wait until they were promoted to figure it out. Life was difficult for them. Take advantage of opportunities to develop your leadership style as soon as you become a supervisor and volunteer for opportunities to work at the next level whenever you can.

I don’t think that good leaders can operate in a comfort zone. That is why I advocate for people to operate at the next higher level whenever they can. If you are not challenging yourself, you are failing yourself and the Airmen you will lead in the future. A core belief of mine is that a leader should be confident, not cocky, and nothing threatens confidence more than the fear of failing. That said, I would be remiss if I did not mention the fact that sometimes mistakes will happen, and sometimes your leadership will fail. Leaders must have the humility to face life as a human, respect and learn from their mistakes. Moreover, good leaders are good followers, so we must support our leaders when they make mistakes, just as you would want to be supported by your subordinates when you make one!

I must admit that I had my own internal doubts when I was first asked to take over for Chief Davis. I wondered how it would work, if anyone would really take a Senior Master Sergeant representing the chief and the commander seriously. I appreciate the opportunity to challenge myself to operate at the next level, I appreciate the mentors and educators who have impacted my development, and most importantly, I am appreciative of the support I received from my fellow Defenders and leaders at our Wing. This month presented a unique opportunity for me to operate at the next level. Be sure to prepare yourself now for the future opportunities that will surely come knocking!

To grow as a leader, I recommend these impactful books:

Turn the Ship Around by L. David Marquet

Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink

Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman

Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence by Daniel Goleman

Arresting Communication by Jim Glennon