Take time to do the things that make for better leaders

  • Published
  • By Col. Scott Snyder
  • 446th Operations Group commander

As I have departed my last few assignments, I was given the opportunity to speak to the members of my organization. In each instance, three central themes emerged.

First, self-elimination. My advice was, "Don't." I have worked with many service members who had tremendous leadership potential -- many far greater than mine -- who consciously or unconsciously chose self-elimination. I'm not talking about raising their hand to take on a project, or to remove themselves from the running on a promotion.

I'm talking about doing the basic things that teach us to be better officers, better noncommissioned officers and better leaders. Things like professional military education, upgrades in professional qualification or academic education.

Many people aren't sure about their future in the military -- they don't know if they want to stay in or get out, or if they want to excel only in their current specialty, or take a higher-level leadership position. My simple advice is if you've ever thought about the next step; take on those personal upgrades now that make you a better person.

Opportunities will present themselves when you are least expecting it -- some of those opportunities have barriers to entry. And many of those improvement efforts will make you more marketable later, even if you completely change career tracks. Be prepared.

My second food for thought was about perspective. I grew up in the military flying airplanes and saw a lot of leadership come and go. In fact, when I was a director of operations for a flying squadron, I had four different commanders over four years.

Each had good qualities, and some had "challenges" with certain aspects of the position. All desired to lead to make the unit more effective and get the mission done.

Squadron members would ask me who I liked the best. My answer was never simple, but a good lesson -- it's all about your perspective. My view was very different than theirs -- commanders the members liked for certain reasons (the commander wasn't a micromanager, the commander was more of a people person, etc.) weren't necessarily the qualities I saw most productive to mission success.

"Micromanagers" are sometimes leaders who were placed specifically to get a job done -- to fix some aspect of training, financial management, or disciplinary issues the Airmen felt were getting an inordinate amount of negative management and attention. From my perspective, those commanders made my life easier, because we could team up to get the mission done right, and take care of people.

Those commanders everyone "liked" weren't consistently helpful either -- often they were too busy socializing rather than leading. People were sometimes surprised by my answer to "who was the best commander," since my answer was often opposite of what they expected to hear. Once I explained a bit, the "ah-ha" light usually turned on, not because they agreed, but because they realized there was a different perspective.

Finally, take care of your

people. Show consistent, genuine concern.

Engage when there are small problems, not necessarily directing a solution, but encouraging them to find a solution. Take extra care of those that need it, such as with home or family challenges.

People don't necessarily want you to meddle, but they do want to know there's a support structure. But don't be afraid to hold people accountable -- if you do so fairly for all proportionate to the circumstance, people notice, and while they may not like your action it sets a standard, which reminds people of boundaries.