Shadow program provides fount of leadership lessons

  • Published
  • By Capt. Alicia Peasley
  • 721st Communications Squadron
Not everyone gets to do what I did July 13.

No, it wasn't shower, or eat three square meals, or sleep in a warm bed - although there are plenty who would find that a luxury. Instead, I shadowed our own wing commander, Col. Chris Crawford - a coveted fly on the wall experience that enabled serious reflection in my own life.

Through the 21st SW shadow program, a five-week captain - myself - was brought into the world of senior leaders - a world of endless meetings, executive briefs, phone calls and 50 EPRs waiting to be signed. Those are things I got to do that day, but they are not the things I learned.

Instead, I watched with curious eyes the little things that make a commander. On the search for my own improvement, I wanted to know how our own leader ticked and what I could learn from him. How in the world did he answer all his emails every day? How do you lead more than 4,500 people, plus maintain a family? What was it like to work for one of the most well known leaders in the Air Force today, Lt. Gen. Susan Helms? And when do you work out, let alone go home?

I found these answers and more. Being a leader is not all rainbows and kittens, nor is it a job for someone without vision. A leader must discover the talent of thinking through and filtering the endless dissemination of information received, transforming it into mission accomplishments for the betterment of his people.

Gaining insight into the brain of a great leader was a privilege and generated reflection on my own responsibilities. I realized how much was expected of me as an officer, and how hard a leader should work for his people. I saw teamwork across rank and group, and I saw much coffee ingested. Golden nuggets of wisdom stuck with me, they are the stuff that somehow edged its way into my brain folds despite near comatose status at wing stand up. These are some of the lessons I learned.

Don't use PowerPoint unless you have to, and when you do, actually say something. Be the smartest one in your area of expertise at every meeting. Question when things don't make sense. Use accurate titles on charts and graphs. Carry hydration into every briefing (preferably caffeinated).

Know the face and names of everyone you lead. Read. (This includes for both pleasure and edification.) Take notes when your boss tasks you. Actually follow up on those notes. Keep taskers for your subordinates in one location. Talk to people - only use the much-hailed email for information dissemination, not idea fostering. Solicit and present ideas. Surround yourself with quality people, and do not tolerate people who lie to your face.

Do your unit, and the Air Force, a favor: document. Make sure your group commander knows if you haven't done your PHA or if you broke your wrist playing basketball, because it is invariably and inevitably tracked. Know how to relax - preserve the sacredness of your "weekends," however your schedule may work them. Read any articles your wing commander has written before meeting with him one on one. Know what the Napoleonic structure is (Wikipedia does not count). Know your stuff.

Strive to get things right, but accept when you don't and move on. Be unafraid of personal repercussions when presenting the best solution possible. Make sure your stoplight charts fade and shade appropriately- tricolor traffic lights are out. Have a personal mentor inside and outside of your career field. Don't let bad people work for you. Develop your own straightforward priorities to get your act in gear. Prioritize your God and your family. Seek and heed wise counsel, but in the end, do what you know in your heart to be right. Be comfortable in your own skin as your own type of leader, but learn from all the types around you. And remember the value of your local GSU, Cheyenne Mountain.

And all of that was just before lunch.