PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
In August 2016, Gen. David Goldfein wrote a letter to Airmen emphasizing squadrons as “the beating heart of the United States Air Force; our most essential team. We succeed or fail in our missions at the squadron-level because that is where we develop, train, and build Airmen…”
Developing, training, and building Airmen should start on day one, but many Airmen receive little mentorship before they are chosen for leadership positions. As a new first lieutenant, I was selected to fill a flight commander position. Although I was thrilled for the opportunity, I felt unprepared, and at the time, I was unaware of any flight leadership courses. In order to solve this issue and develop young leaders, the 21st Space Wing has implemented their first-ever Flight Leadership Course.
The intent behind this course is to provide flight commanders and flight chiefs a venue to learn about and discuss leadership topics that may help them in their new roles. Some of these topics include conflict resolution, followership, ethical leadership, and senior leader discussions. In December 2018, Air University released the Flight Commanders Edge Program, which provides a variety of tools to help wings in developing their local courses. The 21st SW has incorporated tools such as self-assessments, feedback forms and learning aids to develop a robust leadership course.
I would argue that being a flight leader is one of the hardest (albeit rewarding) jobs one can have early in their career. You make decisions and influence the mission, but there is still top cover if and when you make the wrong decision. I am currently on my third flight command position, and I am faced with new situations and challenges every day. Just when I think I have dealt with enough scenarios to be prepared for anything, I find myself questioning what to do when faced with unknown territory. So, how would the Flight Leadership Course have helped me in this challenging role?
First, I would have learned about leading people. I quickly had to learn how to write performance reports, awards packages, disciplinary paperwork, and now all the same on the civilian side. In addition, how I lead people as a flight commander ultimately affects that person’s career. It is our job as flight leaders to hold our people accountable and help grow and develop them into the best leaders they can be. This course is the first step to prepare flight commanders and chiefs to help grow their subordinates.
Second, the course would have taught me that it is ok to mess up. An important piece of advice I have been given is there are multiple correct ways to handle a situation, but rarely a wrong way if your approach is moral, legal, and ethical. As a new flight commander, I made choices that were influenced by others, due to lack of mentorship or training that would have allowed me to stand on my own to make an informed decision. The Flight Leadership Course teaches us how to handle different circumstances by hearing from leaders who made poor choices in their own careers and how they overcame those mistakes to lead through failure. It also allows the opportunity to share best practices, lessons learned and personal experiences so we can best serve in our new roles.
Finally, it would have provided me tools to deal with difficult problem sets. I have found the most challenging aspect of being a flight commander is managing people. The Flight Leadership Course gives an opportunity for Airmen to discuss scenarios with leaders who have years of experience in dealing with a multitude of issues. No two situations will ever be the same, but working through theoretical challenges with experienced leaders in a learning environment can help Airmen when faced with issues at work.
At the end of the day, developing, training, and building Airmen is a continuous cycle. We, as young flight commanders and flight chiefs, will be mentored and trained by squadron, group, and wing-level leaders, and in turn, we will then pass our knowledge to the next generation of Airmen. The Flight Leadership Course is an excellent opportunity for leaders to build their own tool kit so we can continue to succeed with our missions and people.
The next Flight Leadership Couse is scheduled for Feb. 6-8. The course is available to officers, Non-commissioned officers and civilians who are currently filling or slated to fill as flight commanders, flight chiefs, and equivalents. In addition, officers and NCOs wishing to improve their leadership skills are welcome. For more information or to sign up, please contact Capt. Allison Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org or 556-6851.
For squadron and group commanders interested in teaching lessons or leading discussions during the course, please reach out to Thomas as well.