The speed of need

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. David Tipton
  • 20th Space Control Squadron

The “speed of need” is often how we describe our desired acquisitions pace, or the pace we need to operate at as a force in order to maintain the advantage over our adversaries or competitors. As a squadron commander, I also see it as the speed at which we need to move to retain our most valued resource: people, and more specifically, millennials.

While our organization isn’t nearly as rigid and bureaucratic as 10-15 years ago, we need to move faster. The life blood of our Air Force – those who were born between the mid-1980s up to 2000 – certainly aren’t the ones slowing our force down. Rather, it is those of us who are leading them. Our efforts as an Air Force over the past decade to evolve through innovation, and our recognition that our youngest Airmen are the best to know how to do that, have certainly helped us advance toward that goal.

There are leadership challenges associated with bridging the gap between the older, more traditional generations who continue to serve, and millennials, who now make up a majority of our force, due to some of the stark differences in mindset as well as the associated personalities. The difference between putting the screw in because that’s where the screw goes, versus wanting to understand why the screw is needed and how it benefits the greater good, can create friction in the pursuit of problem solving and innovation between older generations and millennials. Often, using leadership rather than management is enough to overcome those challenges. Fortunately, as service members, our shared desire to serve is enough to take care of the rest.

Our millennials want to work in fast-paced organizations, and they want to develop as individuals. Luckily for us, they are primarily driven by principle, meaning they are willing to give up freedoms to work for an organization that matches their values. Retention of those who are unsatisfied with their development and/or the organization’s principles isn’t necessarily desirable from either the individual or Air Force perspective. What we don’t want is talent walking out the door because we are moving too slowly.

Sure, there are characteristics that are generally tagged to each generation, both negative and positive. We have to harness the positives – the desire for close-knit culture and relationships, fast pace and fulfilling work and the non-linear thinking that is their creativity.

As leaders we delegate in order to get more done with less resources and to build experience in our subordinates. To be most effective and move at the “speed of need” we have to delegate authority, not tasks. To truly innovate, we only have to put them on the path rather than dictate the destination. We need to align authority with responsibility to enable our Airmen if we want to retain our best and brightest, if we want our force to thrive.