• Published
  • By Lt. Col. Ty S. Gilbert
  • 55th Intelligence Support Squadron commander
I have always believed that if two military folks are standing on the street corner, someone is in charge. Our military organization is centered on this premise. Without clarity in this area, confusion sets in, mission success is degraded, and, in some cases, missions fail. In a squadron construct, ultimately the squadron commander is in charge, and in the squadron's subordinate flights, others are in charge, either formally or informally.

Sometimes the very best leaders do not have the most brass on their collar or stripes on their sleeves. Moreover, it is professionally myopic to believe that one career field has exclusive rights to or ownership of the virtues and character tied to truly great leadership. I offer that any Airman can and should be empowered to lead, of any rank, of any AFSC.

A healthy military organization should see leadership at all ranks. None of this is to suggest that senior leaders within an organization abdicate their responsibilities; leaders at the top of the organization should not be threatened by exemplary subordinate leadership performance below them, in fact it should be encouraged. This notion is centered on empowerment and maximizing the talent that exists in any organization.

I would offer that if leaders are not allowing for these organizational conditions, the squadron is not firing on all cylinders. If squadron leadership challenges your Airmen to lead at any rank, there is pride in ownership, there is policing on quality as the mission is performed, and conditions are set to identify and resolve problems at the lowest level, even at the lowest echelons. An organization benefits from this if the leaders at each level are dialed in to their subordinates and their mission needs and concerns.

Conversely, if subordinates within an organization are not empowered to lead, commitment to the cause fades and so does quality. I think back to my time as a director of operations and a harassment incident within our squadron. The squadron demographic was largely 18 - 22 years of age. All it would have taken was one Airman, of any rank to resolve the issue; instead the issue marinated and created pronounced secondary effects. Lead if even at the lowest level or seemingly benign things can become career ending events for someone else.

This action is not exclusive to any one career field or group of career fields. Any AFSC can lead. In fact one of the very best leaders I have ever seen was a technical sergeant in the services career field in Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, in 2002. Not even a year after the attacks on our nation, we were deployed as an Air Force outfit in what remains largely Army terrain. Morale was good, but it became better with the work of this inspiring non-commissioned officer. Everything he did was with high energy, from the constant sweeping of the baby powder like dust on gym floors that was indigenous to Afghanistan, to his uncanny resourcefulness. Back then it was hard enough to find a broom, but he found a way procure wood to build a ping pong table, a huge morale source. He coordinated with the Red Horse team to work delivery of concrete to pour a slab that could double as a basketball playing surface or storage area. He ordered PlayStations and set up an area for our Airmen to enjoy some recreation in an area where we worked 7 days a week in blacked-out conditions. He even tracked down someone who stole one of the PlayStations before they could mail it off at the post office and had him incarcerated. He was an Air Force NCO, no one saw an AFSC. He led.

The organizational benefit of empowering subordinates and unleashing their talents is limitless. By empowering not only all ranks, but leaders of any AFSC, the atmosphere created is a permissive environment for all players to not merely exist, but to make a powerful impact. Do not fear empowering your subordinates and be fully inclusive with your professionals, it multiplies the horsepower in the organization and turns "good" to "great."