My personal leadership philosophy

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- My personal leadership philosophy can be summed up in just a few words -- people first, mission always.

Some may mistake the phrase "people first, mission always" as a dictum to coddle unit personnel through adversity, but actually, my focus is on preparing them to overcome adversity. The mission will always press on, but without an engaged workforce the mission may not thrive.

By focusing on the needs of unit personnel, we strengthen a key enabler that drives mission success. Therefore, leaders must nurture the people in their organizations with the intention of developing a competent, highly motivated and cohesive workforce that stands ready to tackle any challenge. Easier said than done but it should always be the goal.

Let us further examine the term "people first." While not all-inclusive, these principles are a good baseline for cultivating the workforce.

The most important element is ensuring our people have a leader they can look to and depend on. Leaders must embody their role and set the tone for the organization. Through our actions and demeanor, leaders set an example of the behavior we want personnel to emulate. We must show our commitment to them by putting their needs before our own whenever possible. Furthermore, as leaders we must ensure all unit personnel understand the unit mission and objectives while also providing clear guidance on our expectations.

The second most important element to taking care of people is ensuring they are set up for success. Leaders must ensure personnel have the training, tools, equipment and technical data to perform their jobs. Having a competent and properly equipped workforce maximizes their effectiveness, improves morale and reduces frustrations related to poor performance.

This also involves actively looking for ways to reduce their burdens. One method is continuously looking for ways to improve unit processes; another technique is removing obstacles that prevent personnel from efficiently or effectively accomplishing their jobs. Since we are not the subject-matter-expert in their specific jobs, leaders must actively solicit feedback from unit personnel to achieve this goal.

Perhaps the most difficult challenge in taking care of people is empowering unit personnel to perform their tasks. This concept involves leaders trusting mid-level supervisors to perform their jobs without our interference. It requires us to accept reasonable levels of risk. We must trust our subordinates unless they give us a reason not to; and if that is the case, then we should replace them. Empowering personnel also helps develop leaders who can make decisions in our absence.

A critical element for taking care of our people involves promoting good order and discipline by enforcing standards and holding individuals accountable for their actions. I have seen first-hand, the dysfunction caused by leaders who are reluctant to enforce standards. As long as we are fair, I have found that unit personnel appreciate a leader who enforces standards and holds everyone accountable. Additionally, I view a mistake differently than negligence or a crime. With mistakes come training opportunities to reinforce positive behavior. Leaders must be able to distinguish between the two.

One of the best parts of taking care of people is being able to reward them. As leaders, we must appropriately reward and recognize unit personnel for their performance. It not only motivates them, but it is the right thing to do. To ensure the awards program is meaningful, leaders should maintain challenging, but achievable, standards. However, recognition could also involve actions such as taking time to walk around and say thank you to individuals. Rewards can also be job promotions with more responsibility, highly coveted business trips, strong performance evaluations, etc. The main point is ensuring people feel appreciated for their hard work.

Lastly, taking care of people involves helping them to develop as professionals. Leaders must create an environment that fosters professional development for officers, enlisted and civilian personnel. At times, we may need to challenge them with difficult tasks outside their comfort zone. We should also understand their personal and professional goals and work to help them develop a plan to achieve them. Additionally, we must develop competent leaders who are capable of mentoring their subordinates. In this way, we grow the force for future generations.

By following these leadership principles, leaders can strive to build a workforce that is capable of performing the mission. Most importantly, that we may also have a positive impact on the people the Air Force has entrusted to our care.