WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio - No one ever says leadership is easy – what makes each day possible is the “command triad.” What makes it worth the time and effort are the Airmen, both military and civilian.
What is the triad, you may ask? It’s the commander or civilian chief, senior enlisted leader and first sergeant. The triad leads the unit, cares for its human capital, forms a decision-making element and taps into subject-matter experts who have the answers.
Flexibility is the key to our daily lives because our best-laid plans usually fail by 8 a.m., time with family gets interrupted by phone calls or text messages, and we are constantly in a state of Semper Gumby (“always flexible”).
As commander, leading a squadron is a dynamic, challenging and rewarding opportunity. We have been at war for my entire Air Force career, which brings its own leadership challenges.
With all the challenges, trials and tribulations, I look to the other two “triad” arms for support and guidance. When times are tough, we band together to get through them, move as a team and speak with one voice to lead a dynamic unit.
Leadership is about understanding the vision of Air Force leaders, listening to teammates and developing a way forward for the unit. It’s teamwork, from the youngest to the oldest – we need a team to move the ball forward.
Building trust with the triad is critically important to unit success and keeping things real.
Senior enlisted leader
Reflecting on leadership perspectives as a senior enlisted leader, I follow the “triple R,” a philosophy of being “REAL, RAW and RELEVANT.”
Today’s Airmen desire leaders they can trust. How do you built that trust? Be real, raw and relevant.
Be real and tell Airmen how it is (good or bad) as they desire this transparency. I have learned our Airmen appreciate you more as a leader when you are REAL in your approach to ensuring they clearly understand the real you, your expectations and those of the organization. Airmen are going to ask questions as policies, directives and our greater Department of Defense drives change. We as leaders owe them the why; never forget that.
Secondly, Airmen desire a leader who is RAW, a leader who isn’t afraid to be vulnerable and talk about their personal failures or challenges as an Airman and in life. Being RAW takes extreme courage, but the credibility it builds with our Airmen is invaluable. Airmen need to see that you’re human, too, and you also go through trials, tribulations, heartache and life stressors — just like they do.
Finally, Airmen need you to be RELEVANT. In our dynamic and ever-changing environment, we as leaders must strive to be in tune with everything happening both in the Air Force and around the globe. When our Airmen have questions, they will seek you out for the answers. Staying educated will keep you RELEVANT.
My challenge to leaders at all levels is to take time to focus on our greater Air Force and DOD. Bottom line, consider being REAL, RAW and RELEVANT.
The first sergeant
Leadership in today’s Air Force is a challenge of the highest order. First sergeants are the connective tissue that bind our units into cohesive and effective teams, and they’re faced with the difficult task of juggling Airmen values and perspectives with the direction and intent of our senior leaders.
We lead Airmen into an uncertain future, as our nation and society are constantly evolving into something new. Each and every one of our Airmen is a human being with a unique perspective on the world and how they fit into it based on their values.
The question “why” is often viewed as an act of defiance and not the teaching tool it most certainly is. These questions are opportunities for us to invest in human capital.
We should never aspire for blind allegiance, but rather a greater understanding of the bigger picture and how our mindsets shape the culture of our organizations. If we take the time to truly listen and foster relationships with our teammates, we will become a formidable force. It begins and ends with trust.
Building and maintaining trust is the key to victory on this battlefront. As our Airmen come to us with concerns, we must leap at the opportunity to mentor and guide. If we embrace those concerns and attempt to identify with their fears, we can begin to transcend the trust gap that has always separated us.
Building trust will take us further as a team than any mandate and light a pathway to accomplish the impossible.
Unique perspectives, one purpose
The 88th Security Forces Squadron is led by three Airmen who come from different walks of life, experienced different struggles and provide different perspectives. But we are one leadership team, stepping out together with one voice, leading over 400 military and civilian “Defenders” with pride, determination and integrity.
Applying the “command triad” approach builds relevance, solid communication, and trust among Airmen and leaders. It can lead any unit to success through a common vision, voice and purpose.