Developing vision for next Air Commando leaders

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Christopher Ireland
  • 15th SOS
"A true sign of leadership is not how well you run your organization, but how well it runs once you're gone." -- Anonymous senior non-commissioned officer

To lead Air Commandos in the Global War on Terrorism, today's Special Operations Forces leader must be able to visualize the way ahead, lead their Airmen to the end state and "power-down" authorities to the lowest levels commensurate with the risk.

Frequently our SOF taskings require us to operate not just "Anytime, Anyplace," but often in conditions more closely resembling "Alone and Unafraid."

How then do we, the Air Commandos of today, prepare the next generation to lead in such uncertain environments? We must, without fail, ensure they receive every opportunity to learn from, and participate in, today's leadership challenges.

The five steps in U.S. Army Field Manual 6-0, the service's doctrinal model for combat leadership, has something to offer Air Commandos in this respect.

We must leave them with the capacity to visualize the nature and design of operations, to describe their vision to staff and subordinate-commanders, to direct the execution of their vision, and to personally lead and assess their organization throughout.

As Airmen, we receive professional military education to improve our communication skills to describe and direct. As Air Commandos, we are trained to execute specific tactical tasks.

We use our technical "know-how" to lead and assess people and processes. Visualization is the first critical step in the process.

Learning to visualize does not come from a PME syllabus, nor can you be trained at tech school to acquire this skill. More often than not, experience is the only teacher.

Unless the Air Commandos of today take the time to share our experiences, the Air Commando leaders of tomorrow will be forced to re-learn our lessons the hard way.

Yet, visualization requires more than simply pulling from personal or collective experiences. Fundamentally, visualization requires decision making as well.

Our experiences tell us that visualizing a course of action can be a very intricate, deliberate decision-making process.

Other times, it might require a split-second decision. When afforded the time, grab your junior leaders and describe to them what you're thinking, what issues you're considering, how you're weighing risk and get their inputs. When you don't have the time, be directive and get the mission done ... but be sure later on to use a debrief or similar tool to pass on the "how and why" of your decisions.

The ensuing discussion will put vital tools in their leadership kit bags. As you grow these junior leaders, you'll find they're able to anticipate your decisions. As their anticipation grows, so grows their own ability to visualize.

In reality, this model of combat leadership is not limited to combat only. Applied properly, visualize, describe, direct, lead and assess are fundamental leadership steps for any scenario. They can provide certainty in uncertain times.

As the Global War on Terrorism evolves, our nation will require Air Commando leaders to reach timely, appropriate decisions in uncertain conditions.

So here's my challenge to you: In order to develop the next generation of Air Commandos, you must take the time to "read in" the next generation of Air Force Special Operation Command leaders into your decision making process.

Passing on your visualization techniques does not require any cosmic PowerPoint briefing or training session - just your time. Have you taken the time to ensure your organization, led by the next generation of Air Commando leaders, will succeed once you've moved on?