Leaders solve problems, take teams to new heights

  • Published
  • By Scott Vincent, Director, 88th Civil Engineer Group

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Over the past 30 years (including one military and eight civilian assignments), I have amassed a collection of leadership tenets that cross functional boundaries and traverse borders. These are valuable lessons, learned from experience, which cover leadership, teams, innovation, motivation, empowerment and decision-making.

I have frequently asked myself: “What is the definition of a leader?” Some say it’s getting people to do something they do not want to do. I disagree. It is much more complex than that in thought, but a bit simpler in process.

In a nutshell, it boils down to taking care of your people and giving them the freedom to take care of the big rocks.

We talk about empowering our teams. That is not genuine because it implies we have some degree of control over the outcome and people, and we generally do not. We need to talk about emancipating our people — giving them freedom to figure it out and get it done. Without that freedom, they are always under the yoke of the team driver.

We constantly hear about innovation and the need for it, but if people are afraid of rejection, innovation is stifled. A leader should not punish mistakes made with the intent to improve the status quo. Rather, reward the intent and provide direction. As leaders, our job is to get our teams the resources (training, materials, tools, etc.) to do the job and then get the heck out of the way and watch them do amazing things.

I have always been a proponent of the belief that high-performing teams with minimal resources will get more great things done than low-morale teams with abundant resources.

None of this is to say our teams always want to do what we want them to. However, they will be more willing to do the tough tasks if they know and trust that we have their backs. That is a key facet of leadership.

Do not take credit for the accomplishments of others. Act as their umbrella when it’s “raining” and shine the spotlight on them when they have earned the recognition.

Another important facet to leadership is having the strength and courage to make unpopular decisions. That decision might be unpopular to your team or senior leaders, and maybe both. You will know whether it is worth falling on the sword for — not everything is.

We need to remember this is not a popularity contest. Our duty as leaders is to do the right thing for our units and the Air Force as a whole. We are stewards of both our people and the taxpayer. That is a tremendous amount of responsibility not to be taken at all lightly.

To paraphrase a friend of mine: The higher you go, the more serious the issues that must be confronted. If the answers were easy, someone else would have already come up with the solution. Our job is to take our folks to new heights and solve the tough problems.

Take care of your team and have the courage to stand on your convictions, no matter the cost or consequence. You and your team are worth it.