Commentary by Gen. Stephen R. Lorenz
Commander, Air Education and Training Command
4/14/2010 - RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- These are challenging times for our Air Force. We have been engaged in combat operations since 1990 and are balancing limited resources against an aggressive operations tempo. We are once again adjusting to maintain our authorized end strength while juggling priorities within a leveling budget. Many of our aircraft are beyond expected service lives and current operations are aging them even faster. Handling all these demands will be challenging - it will not be fun.
This is where leadership comes into play. Whether at work or at home, everyone has issues. As some issues are resolved, others are always waiting in line to take their places. The "pay me now or pay me later" mindset is exhausting. It is up to each organization's leadership to set the tone, motivate the workplace and create a sustainable culture of success. After all, we want our Airmen to invest themselves in our service and our mission.
So, how can a leader attack such challenges and create sustainable excellence? We all know that it isn't easy to do. It will take dedication and objectivity ... and a lot of patience and perseverance. Along the way, tough decisions will be required and each will call for a tailored approach. In other words, leaders must adapt differently to each situation. Situational leadership is how we keep our organizations motivated and headed in the best direction.
We all have unique leadership styles. Some of us probably smile a little too much while others not quite enough. We all fit somewhere along a leadership continuum, where the ends are defined by the extremes. Although you may feel most comfortable in one region of that continuum, realize that every leader will have to utilize approaches from the full range of the continuum in response to different challenges. A career brings many leadership challenges and leaders must adapt to meet each one.
After all, some challenges will require leaders to soften their approaches. For example, someone in the organization may be directly affected by our end strength reductions. Maybe the unit will suffer the loss of one of its members. Other situations will require a stern approach. This may be necessary when accountability and disciplinary challenges confront the organization or some of its personnel. Effective leaders must be able to approach difficult decisions or situations with the entire continuum at their disposal.
In the end, a leader must approach a challenge with an eye toward crafting a solution to meet their organizational needs. They should consciously select a leadership style or customized approach in order to create a certain effect. For most situations, mission accomplishment will be the effect, the end goal. However, before one can achieve such an effect, situational leadership must be used to motivate others toward success. After all, a motivated force can move mountains.
Motivation is an interesting concept. In some situations, motivation is more spontaneous and flows from the heart. In others, motivation is far from intrinsic and needs a little added emphasis from the top. I call it "added emphasis" because sometimes your organization won't be too thrilled with the changes after they're announced. It may feel like you are marching your team uphill and into the wind.
A leader must look at each challenge, develop a plan and push for success. As part of their plan, leaders must develop the motivation necessary to assist their organizations through the challenges. In the end, people don't quit their jobs (despite all the challenges we face each and every day) - they quit their bosses. The art of motivating organizations through challenges is one of the keys to any leaders' success.
Today, more than ever before, we need leaders of intellect who value the power of thought and innovative approaches. After all, having leaders who think, assess challenges objectively, and motivate their teams to succeed is what makes us the formidable fighting force we are today.