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Future leaders

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neh. -- Commanders, chiefs and first sergeants from the 55th Operations Group had the opportunity recently to sit down and talk with our Air Force's "next generation" of leaders at the James M. McCoy Airman Leadership School. Two prominent themes and their antitheses emerged from our conversation.

Change and constancy. Complexity and simplicity.

We talked a lot about change. Our Airmen know we live in a world dominated by change. Technologically speaking, it's an era governed by Moore's Law and other business forecasting models. Very roughly, these models tell us that the "power of the microchip (i.e. technology)" doubles every two years. That's not linear change ... that's exponential!

Certainly we can all attest that the technologies driving our everyday lives are always changing. We perform "tech refreshes" at home and in the workplace at increasing rates. Deep thinkers tell us that this seemingly unsustainable, ever increasing rate of change will continue for decades or even centuries.
Our Airmen are concerned. They know the burdens and challenges of leading our Air Force are quickly becoming theirs. They want to know what our rapidly changing, increasingly complex Air Force be like? They want to be ready. What can we tell them?

Be ready? Good luck? It's not exactly comforting when all we can say is that "things will be different"... exponentially different.

So then we talked about things that don't change, like heritage and core values. It's good to know we are still focusing our leadership development in these areas. The basics of good leadership have never changed and never will.

Fundamentally, people haven't changed much through history. New terms come and go. Today's "Wingmen" were yesterdays' "principles," Roman warriors who stood in the second row of infantry formations.

Good leaders at all levels know important, personal aspects about their people and they know how to motivate them. Strategic leaders understand the essence of a nation, or an Air Force. At the unit level, good supervisors truly know their Airmen and their families. An old former first sergeant once told me he knew so much about his Airmen that he even knew the shoe sizes of their children. This was good knowledge to have, because back in "his day" money was tight; and he would keep an eye out for good bargains on hand-me-down clothes or shoes that the families might need.

Similarly, we talked about how, sometimes, the best way to handle complexity is to find simple strands that permeate an issue. There are hundreds, even thousands of Air Force Instructions and rules that dictate how to run an Air Force unit on every level. That's complex, but, by focusing on simple concepts like readiness, or a unit's mission statement, much of the daunting complexity becomes simpler.

Every goal of every unit in the 55th Wing ultimately contributes to "providing dominant intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, electronic attack, command and control, and precision awareness to national leadership and warfighters across the spectrum of conflict any time, any place". It is a simple, powerful mission statement that focuses thousands of Airmen and streamlines thousands of AFIs.

Our Air Force is changing, becoming more complex, integrated and lethal, and our Airmen will be ready. The next generation of leaders will maintain a proud heritage of taking care of their fellow Airmen, while focusing on our core values and the Air Force mission. It's simple to understand really, and I know because they told me so at Airmen Leadership School.