MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --
“I failed at…,” the instructor said to 68 students at Air University’s Leader Development Course for Squadron Command.
For two weeks in December, I engaged with my officer counterparts, graduated squadron commanders and senior mentors in the course on the art of command. The instructor was one of the former commanders, and the course was unlike any leadership education I have been a part of inside or outside the service.
And a few years ago, this open candor might not have been a possibility.
In 2017, the Air Force Chief of Staff, General David L. Goldfein, created a task force designed to explore how to revitalize the squadron, the beating hear of the our service. By some miracle, I served as an Air Force civilian representatives for that task force. In the months that followed, my enlisted and officer counterparts, and I traveled, along with trained social scientists, to different bases conducting one on one interviews and focus groups to determine what a revitalized squadron looked like to those that mattered most-Airmen.
In total, nearly 4,000 airman provided feedback on how to make our Air Force better in these interviews and more than 14,000 answered surveys and submitted ideas online. Some of the ideas and feedback could be implemented quickly like realignment of authority with squadron commanders for fitness testing and squadron innovation funds. Other changes like switching to OCPs took a little longer.
From the data, patterns emerged and what Airmen said emerged into four categories increase focus on leadership, remove barriers to success and provide resources to succeed and strengthen the team.
In the summer of 2018, CSAF and then Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson signed an implementation plan that directed Air University to create a new course, deliberately focused on the human domain, which would fill the developmental gap our Airmen identified.
Airmen desired squadron commanders with stronger soft skills like communication, accepting and giving feedback well, problem solving, etc. In the age of multiple domain operations, LDC tackles the human domain. This is what makes the course different.
One instructor said it best when he said, if you are looking for checklist for how not to get fired, you are in the wrong place. I’ve heard it said we need commanders who thrive in command verses simply survive command. The courses shows ways to thrive
The eight days did allow some focus on legal aspects of Squadron Command, but the course involved self-awareness, identifying your weak flanks as a leader, how your personality traits can be used to build a more effective team and the importance of the Squadron Leadership Triad- the commander, superintendent and first sergeant.
A key element to the success of the course is the first-hand lessons learned from the graduated squadron commanders, chief master sergeants and first sergeants who spoke. Hearing the depths that individuals committed to their units and the heartache when you lose a member of the unit to an evil such as cancer left tear tracks running down my face. Having others open up about how to I left the course with renewed dedication and the tools to help those around me be better.
The greatest aspect of the course from my perspective was how true it stayed to what Airmen said they needed. None of us can wave a magic wand and create a perfect leader, but as students pass through the course, we strengthen our teams and spread the lessons learned to those who we work with and their families. The course taught me that Airmen need clarity of purpose, verifiable mission success, purposeful leadership and espirt de corps and it is the commander’s responsibilities to provide those in an identifiable culture of respect that Airmen are proud to be a part of.
Course candidates are wing commander-nominated active duty, Reserve and Guard officers with nine to 16 years’ time-in-service tracking toward command or GS-13 civilians who could fill civilian-equivalent director positions in the next few years.