Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Excellence in Leadership: Lessons Learned from Top-Performing Units

Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Excellence in Leadership: Lessons Learned from Top-Performing Units

Article excerpt

IN 2004 I became the new executive assistant for leadership in the US Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI). Because of my responsibility for training OSI personnel assigned to leadership positions, I had a particular interest in learning how the command's award-winning leaders influenced their personnel to fulfill the mission. One day I asked my colleague and coauthor Dr. Bunamo if a fact-based way existed to identify the leadership and management practices used in the command to foster performance excellence. After mulling over this question, he recommended an approach consistent with Air Force doctrine, pointing to two passages from Air Force Doctrine Document (AFDD) 1-1, Leadership and Force Development

Effective leadership transforms human potential into effective performance in the present and prepares capable leaders for the future. . . .

The primary task of a military organization is to perform its mission. The leader's primary responsibility is to motivate and direct people to carry out the unit's mission successfully. A leader must never forget the importance of the personnel themselves to that mission.1

He suggested that we reverse-engineer performance excellence to identify effective leadership. Dr. Bunamo wanted to harness the OSI's data-mining capabilities to identify topperforming units and validate these selections with OSI senior leaders. Then he proposed that we interview unit leaders to learn how they fostered performance excellence, hastening to add that this was a risky procedure without a guarantee of success. That said, I sought and received backing from Brig Gen L. Eric Patterson, then the commander of the OSI, for the Excellence in Leadership project. This sequence of events led us on a remarkable journey that has provided some amazing results.2


To identify excellent units, we used some high-tech wizardry. We defined an excellent detachment as one that demonstrated the following:

* High productivity, as measured by the unit's ability to provide more output per hour than its peers. In the OSI, output includes investigations, intelligence-information reports, counterintelligence briefings, and specialized investigative services.

* Mission versatility, as demonstrated by above-average performance in a variety of mission areas, especially under challenging circumstances such as deployments.

* Efficiency, as measured by a unit's ability to complete mission-related tasks on a timely basis against established metrics. In the OSI, efficiency metrics track the timely completion of felony investigations and the rapid dissemination of threat information.

* Results orientation or the unit's mission effectiveness, as measured by the results of its efforts, such as the percentage of convictions in criminal investigations, the number of recoveries in fraud cases, or the responsiveness of counterintelligence collections to the Department of Defense's highest-priority collection requirements.3

We used data-mining software and statistical algorithms to examine performance data on 150 OSI field detachments around the world during 2001-4. We extracted all of the data from the command's legacy and current informationmanagement systems. After examining the indicators, we selected seven units for in-depth study.4

Capitalizing on the OSI's traditional law-enforcement skills, we found that structured interviews helped us identify effective leadership practices employed in these units.5 In each interview, we asked the same questions about leadership practices and management processes used to foster excellence in performance in garrison units during peacetime. We collected information from unit commanders (both military on active duty and civilian personnel), their superintendents or the senior noncommissioned officer at the location, and the agents and support personnel who were members of diese units, asking them about what encouraged performance excellence. …

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