Leadership through change

  • Published
  • By Col. Jeffrey Flewelling
  • 21st Space Wing vice commander
As we approach the busy December holiday break, many of us will use this time to reflect on the year past, the challenges and obstacles faced and success achieved. Many will also use the time to set new goals and examine the uncertain year ahead.

Indeed, 2012 is shaping up to be a year full of change for the U.S. Air Force, as shrinking capital and manpower will force Airmen to reprioritize and find new ways to accomplish the mission. Some have called the pending challenges of 2012 historic and unprecedented; many question how the Air Force can still achieve mission success. I'd say that 2012 is just another challenging year for the Air Force and the Wing. Sure, there will be change and obstacles, but the Knights in the 21st are always ready. The Air Force and the 21st Space Wing will meet these challenges as we have always done, by relying on steadfast leadership at all levels.

All individuals, units and organizations go through change. This change process helps us look at problems differently, gain efficiencies and enhance operations. So too will the coming year as we adjust to different resource baselines. The 2012 resource restructure will improve efficiency and posture us to execute our mission in tomorrow's environment. Our manpower, personnel and comptroller shops have done heroic work to prepare the Wing for this future. Change, however, is not always easy and requires innovative, steadfast and disciplined leadership from all -- a path our vision statement has clearly laid in front of us.

The leadership required is not found during times of ease. No, what is needed is leadership found in uncertain times, complex times -- the leadership of the "winter soldiers." (Look this up!) Early in my career, a trusted leader and senior mentor of mine told me "The Air Force did not put me in charge to get the job done with the resources and people I want; instead the Air Force demands I get the mission accomplished with the people and resources I have." Often when challenges arise and I question how I can achieve some difficult objective, it is that piece of advice: "get the job done with what you have" which drives me to success and back to the core of our profession--steadfast leadership.

Looking ahead at 2012, I offer a few essential leadership principles worth a second look every now and again. These principles are not new and nothing about them is earth shattering, yet they are fundamental to our profession and should be at the core of our every action.

1. Lead the way.
In everything we do we must lead the way. Set the example, be out front, and be willing to do first what you ask of others. For many this is easier said than done but when you think about it this is the most basic facet of leadership. We have all had leaders we admire, someone who plows the way and someone who always stands up to say "I'll do it" or "take me first." This leader will consistently commit themselves and their unit to the toughest challenge and assignment - and they always succeed. As we navigate through shrinking resources and seemingly never-ending budget and manning drills, we all need to lead the way. Take a look at your organization and ask what you can do to help, how can we do things better or smarter. Don't wait to be told to do it, rather look at your high ground now and provide solutions early and often. Truly embrace and lead the change that is coming.

2. Enforce standards.
Through this period of change, we need to continue to uphold all that makes us the best Air Force in the world; at the top of that list is our standards. During times of change and stress it is easy to let standards erode. It's easy to accept less than excellence and let things slide. Don't fall into this trap. While it may offer some short-term relief for a stressed co-worker or overworked flight, it is misplaced empathy and in the long run erodes the unit and makes it that much harder to perform the mission down the road. Enforcement of standards is a difficult facet of leadership. Nobody wants to be the bad guy, but it's a burden we all must share, and it's vital to the success of any organization. Remember discipline and standards are most required in dynamic and challenging circumstances - that is when we need steadfast leadership.

3. Know your people.
Finally, get to know everyone in your unit. Make an effort to know your coworkers, your subordinates and their families. Again, this sounds easy enough, but it requires persistent hands-on interaction. The challenges of tomorrow require a "Total Team" effort, a team that includes our family members. Only through the true integration of all our personnel and their family members working together can we achieve the resiliency that our profession demands. I challenge all of us to make that extra effort to know the Airmen with whom you work. As we progress through personnel and budget drills, a keen insight into the personal nature of our business will help us understand impacts and the solutions required to affect change.

Across our Wing, from our staff agencies to our geographically separated units, the leadership I've just described exists. The 21st operates in some the harshest environmental conditions on the planet with new weapon systems that demand innovation. We routinely face personnel and resource challenges that call for strict attention to detail and fundamental discipline. As 21st Space Wing Knights we embrace these challenges; we want to lead the way. After working with many of you through these past months, I have every confidence that we will continue to lead and we will all rise to meet the challenges of 2012. Give us the toughest missions, give us contested resources and we will find a way to execute.

As we approach the holidays, let us look inward and remember why we came into the Air Force. We came to be the leaders of Airmen, to defend our nation through the toughest of times and to dominate our High Ground.

Meegan and I are proud to be Knights of the 21st, we look forward to the challenges the New Year brings and we wish all the 21st Space Wing happy holidays!