Leadership: Defining clear expectations

  • Published
  • By Col. William Uhlmeyer
  • 821st Air Base Group commander
I enlisted in the Air Force in 1985 when we had more than 600,000 members in our ranks. We have gradually reduced our personnel force over the years and we currently find ourselves with approximately 330,000 Airmen. The reduction in our total strength, in combination with shrinking budgets, reduces the margin of error where leadership effectiveness is concerned. Now we're at a time and place that requires us to be ready to lead our Airmen and utilize the tools we currently have in order to be effective leaders.

A key leadership tool in the environment we're facing is that of defining clear expectations for all of our Airmen.

Clear expectations from leadership have never been more important than in today's mission environment. We, as an Air Force, do not have the ability to overcome mistakes by pouring more money or manpower into issues and challenges. We must make certain we are good stewards of our resources and can do this in a number of ways.

We do this by ensuring that our vision, priorities and level of effort directly support the vision and priorities of the next level up the chain of command. A group's vision and priorities for example, must directly support the vision and priorities set forth by the wing commander. While it's critical that wing and group philosophies are enforced, I'd argue it's even more important to link and overlap vision and priorities at the lowest levels within each organization.

For example, the vision and priorities of a flight must support that of the squadron whose vision and priorities must support the group. It's only in this way that we can ensure we're accomplishing the core tasks of each organization and reducing or eliminating extraneous effort that's not in line with the mission of our units.

But this philosophy isn't just for organizations. It can and must be a part of each Airman's formal feedback in order to ensure each Airman is directly supporting and directly connected to mission activities. For example, during formal feedback sessions a supervisor should clearly spell out the vision and mission of the unit and how the Airman's duty requirements directly support those higher level tasks. Specific links should be articulated between individual performance with that of overall mission satisfaction.

Taken even a step further, the feedback session should clearly describe those actions and accomplishments that are associated with an average Airman versus those of an above average Airman versus those of an Airman that is truly among the best. It's only when we link the highest level vision and priorities with the specific actions required of each Airman that we are confident we are setting clear expectations and maximizing the resources at hand.

In today's challenging environment, we must ensure we have all of our resources and effort aligned to directly support our mission; there is little room for error. We do this by clearly defining expectations, and connecting every Airman and every organization to the greater mission of defending our country.