Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Leadership from Flight Level 390

Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Leadership from Flight Level 390

Article excerpt

MOST OF THE time, the only chance I have for quiet reflection is at flight level 390-what a delight! So between crisp discussions with some air-traffic agency, here's what I think about the most important part of our jobs: leadership.

We don't do much in life by ourselves. Carrying out big tasks as well as seemingly small ones usually takes a team-and teams need leaders. Leading is a hard thing to do-and even harder to do right. A glance at the front page of any newspaper shows just how challenging it is.

Generally, we have very little patience for bad leadership. Leaders are the first to go when things turn south. That's because they're responsible for what happens in the organization. We hold our leaders to high standards.

We know it takes far more than a good leader to get the job done, but a team will not succeed without effective leadership. It is a critical component. The leader must pull together a group of diverse individuals from various backgrounds with differing proficiency levels and experience. He or she must motivate them to accomplish some specified task, such as increasing profits by 10 percent, building a skyscraper, putting a man on the moon, or winning the Super Bowl.

I have spent the past 30-plus years of my life in the US Air Force for three principal reasons. First, I love America-it's the greatest country on the face of the planet. second, I love flying-there's nothing like 480 knots. Third, I love leading Airmen-I consider it a privilege to work with them.

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk about leadership with a group of Air Force Academy cadets. A recurring theme in our discussion dealt with how leaders motivate their teams to accomplish their goals. I told them that was the essence of leadership-getting ordinary people to do extraordinary things. I told them they would leave the academy with a fine technical education and would go on to be pilots, engineers, computer experts, and the like, but what they will really get paid to do is lead.

Although I had good leadership-development opportunities during my high school and university years, I was ill prepared to lead when I entered active duty. But over time, I began to put together a set of skills that worked for me. I had help along the way from mentors who showed me the ropes. I observed good and bad leaders and tried different approaches. Here's what I've learned.

Leadership Style

There are as many leadership styles as there are leaders. Some styles are better than others, but there is no one-size-fits-all approach that works for everyone. Good leaders tailor their approach based on the situation. Are the leaders new to their groups, or have they worked their way up through the ranks? Does the group have a track record of success, or does it have problems to resolve? What are the competency and proficiency levels of its members? Is the group large or small? Is the organization tall or flat? Has it just formed, or are there existing relationships? Is time crunch a factor? These and many other considerations will determine a leader's style. Ultimately, it will depend on the leader, team, and mission.

The Leader

What works for one leader may not necessarily work for another. All good leaders are not the same. They come in all shapes and sizes, with varying abilities and strengths. As a result, leadership style is unique to the individual. It is very much personality-driven. We naturally migrate to an approach that fits our disposition. Anything else would be awkward and forced. A leader's experience and expertise will also affect his or her choice of style.

The Team

Leadership is about people. Successful leaders build and sustain effective relationships with the members of their teams. They know what makes their teams tick, individually and collectively. They understand what motivates them. They find that delicate balance between pushing and pulling their people. …

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