Leadership Ideas, Information and News

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

To innovate, we can't be afraid to fail

by Col. Robert Novotny
Commander, 48th Fighter Wing

11/25/2014 - ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England  -- "Throughout history, people with new ideas - who think differently and try to change things - have always been called troublemakers." -Richelle Mead, author.

The Air Force is pushing hard for us to innovate. You hear it when our senior leaders give speeches or post articles imploring us to improve. Examples include the AFSO21 process, or the new Airmen Powered by Innovation program launched in April. All of that is great, except for the fact that over the last 30 years, we've created an organization that is resistant to failure.

When was the last time you heard someone say, "It's okay to not spend all of your money at the end of the fiscal year," or, "Getting a three on your EPR [enlisted performance report] is awesome!" Never, right? Clearly we have a problem. Innovation and fear of failure are incompatible. Like oil and water, a culture afraid to take risk is inherently unable to explore the sometimes-ugly world of innovation.

Here's some good news. Since the birth of the airplane, Airmen have always been innovative. Innovation is resident in our DNA - just maybe a bit dormant right now.

A pair of brave, "troublemaker" bicycle mechanics took flight at Kitty Hawk, Doolittle's courageous "troublemakers" launched B-25 bombers off of the USS Hornet, and a fearless "troublemaker" named Chuck Yeager are all legacy examples showcasing the rich history of risk-taking Airmen.

If you've ever been to Edwards Air Force Base in California, you know that nearly every street is named for an innovative Airman who gave his or her life pushing the envelope - failing while innovating. Given that innovation is part of our culture, how can we create an environment at Royal Air Force Lakenheath where our Airmen are willing to innovate without fear of failure?

First, I think we need to agree that we have to be better than we are - with our precious time, our tremendous Airmen and our finite resources. In the past several months, the Air Force released more Airmen in an attempt to meet Congressionally-mandated end strengths. This reduction in manpower is stressing the team more than ever. Furthermore, our team is now in a period of mission-growth that I can't remember in recent history.

We all thought that the drawdown in Afghanistan would bring relief, but the new fight in Iraq and Syria, a pandemic virus coupled with declining security in Africa, and other resurgent threats, demand improvements in the way we accomplish our mission. It is only appropriate that an old English proverb stated, "Necessity is the mother of invention." I think that applies to us right now.

Second, and most important, we have to foster a culture that is willing to experiment and fail during discovery. I have a big role in this culture, but I am convinced our first and second-level supervisors will make or break this effort. Every time I meet with the first-term Airmen, I am reminded that we recruit and retain brilliant Americans, and they have great ideas. They are also a fresh set of eyes in the organization with a long list of questions about how we're doing business.

If you're a young supervisor, listen to your folks. Engage with them about how to improve the organization. Our Airmen, regardless of rank or experience, are the key to our future. You have to empower them to take action on their ideas, and reward them when they succeed - and fail. As soon as we admonish an Airman for trying and failing, we can be certain they won't try again.

Without a doubt, we know there are areas where failure brings a high price - like flight and weapons safety, and our healthcare. But there are countless areas around this installation, to include bureaucratic processes, communication, staffing, mission accomplishment and finances, where we can make improvements. If in doubt, start small and build some momentum. Every improvement, no matter how small, will make our team better.

I know this is easier said than done, and we can't change it overnight. I also know that some folks won't trust me when I say it's okay to fail. Fair enough. I can tell you we are listening to your ideas and making improvements. Because of your ideas, we've already raised the speed limit on the perimeter road, canceled monthly meetings, returned promotion ceremonies to the squadrons, deleted multiple briefing requirements, and so on. All of these improvements are incredibly simple and small changes that make our lives better - ideas that came from our Airmen. Those are not truly innovative ideas, but they are better ways of doing business, and we're listening.

Together we can push the boundaries. Our youngest Airmen hold the keys to this change. Listen to them, and take action. Don't be afraid to try and fail. I've got your back. Don't believe your idea will survive to implementation, but you still want to try it? Send it to me, and I'll try it. My post box is PSC 41, Box 1. Just scribble it on a 3x5 card, and stick it in the mail next time you're at the post office. They'll send it to me anonymously.

We also have an active AFSO21 team that can help you get your ideas off the ground. Have you heard about the 48th Component Maintenance Squadron's egress team that just finished an AFSO21 project on ejection seat inspections? To date, they have saved 21,000 man hours, $450,000, and turned in 501 tools while increasing the quality assurance pass rate from 67 percent to 100 percent.

That great idea was successful because the master sergeant running the shop listened to a senior airman and a staff sergeant. Ideas like that don't come from colonels. Those ideas come from Airmen. We're currently working an AFSO21 project on munitions scheduling, and I just asked a team of airmen and junior NCOs to help improve our sponsor program. They had the ideas, not me.

Innovation will save us money - which is good - but, more importantly, it will save us time. Time that will go back to you and your team. I want you to keep that elusive "white space" time for yourselves. You know best what to do with your time.

Hopefully you'll use that time to get to the gym, travel Europe, mentor a young Airman, or experiment with ways to do our mission better. We can innovate together if we accept the fact that it comes with a price. A price we're willing to pay.

I like Winston Churchill quotes, so I'll leave you with this one: "No idea is so outlandish that it should not be considered." Trust your intuition, and let's get after this together.

20th Air Force Fall 2014 Leadership Symposium

by Airman 1st Class Sahara L. Fales
Minot Air Force Base Public Affairs

11/24/2014 - MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- This year's 20th Air Force Leadership Symposium brought together approximately 120 leaders at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., to discuss opportunities and challenges in the intercontinental ballistic missile mission.

Joining the Task Force 214 and 20th Air Force commander, Maj. Gen. Jack Weinstein, was distinguished speaker Adm. Cecil D. Haney, commander of U.S. Strategic Command.

"I certainly appreciate the leadership and commitment to this critically important mission," Haney said. "We wouldn't be where we are today without the remarkable folks that work for us."

Leading transformation of the ICBM culture and defining the way ahead were key topics of discussion at the symposium.  Gen. Darren McDew, commander of Air Mobility Command, and Command Sgt. Maj. Patrick Alston, senior enlisted leader of U.S. Strategic Command, offered their personal insight into these topics.

"Our ultimate role is to ensure that the ICBM force is a safe, secure and strategic deterrent," Weinstein said.

Weinstein stressed the important role every Airman has in the ICBM mission.  As the technical experts, Airmen are utilizing the Force Improvement Program, which empowers Airmen by soliciting bottom-up feedback and acting on their suggestions, to identify ways to better execute the ICBM mission.

"Our Airmen are hand-selected to come into this business; it is our responsibility to give them the resources they need to be successful," Weinstein said.

During the past eight months, 20th Air Force and the missile wings have enacted many improvements in executing the mission and caring for Airmen and their families.  As improvements continue, commanders and senior enlisted leaders remain critical to the process, Weinstein said.

"Everybody is in here because you were personally chosen to lead the nuclear enterprise," the 20th Air Force commander said.  "Together we can fix any problem."

It was helpful for those who attended the symposium to network and discuss tactics with peers in their career fields, said Chief Master Sgt. Jason Colon, 91st Operations Group superintendent. 

"It's always good to be able to come together and talk to other operations group senior enlisted leaders in settings like this," Colon said.  "Together, we can trade ideas and find out how the other person is handling different issues or implementing improvements."

One improvement Colon discussed with peers is training realignment for facility managers of missile alert facilities.  "The new construct is much more efficient and effective," Colon said.  "It was valuable to hear how others were implementing the realignment."

In addition to training realignment, recent ICBM improvements at Minot include the purchase of new trucks for missile crews to drive to their sites and cleaning / refurbishment of Launch Control Centers.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Secretary of the Air Force’s 10 lessons in leadership and life

November 19, 2014

By Air Force Public Affairs Agency

Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James conducted her first tweet chat Oct. 25, and discussed her top 10 leadership and life lessons. James said she was excited to share lessons learned during her 30-year career working in the government and industry. Those who weren’t able to participate in her original tweet chat can read all the questions and responses below.

On another note, the SECAF will host a live town hall meeting Dec. 16 from the Defense Media Activity at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland. We’ll be collecting questions from our followers on Facebook and Twitter before then, so keep checking our social media pages to submit your questions!

@SecAF23: Thanks for joining my first tweetchat! I’m excited to share my top 10 life lessons, and I’m looking forward to hearing yours too.

@SecAF23: I’ve worked in government and industry for the past 30 years, and I have learned a lot. I’m excited to share my lessons learned with you.

Leadership Lesson 1: Be prepared to zig-zag. Life throws curveballs—be prepared to change, take risks, be agile.

Leadership Lesson 2: Seek a mentor and be a mentor. No matter your age, it’s important to help each other.

Leadership Lesson 3: Build and value a network both inside and outside your organization. Diversity is key to a strong network.

Leadership Lesson 4: Build competence in your career field and beyond. Continue to train, educate and learn.

Leadership Lesson 5: Communicate. Written and verbal skills are important, but 50% of communication is listening. Be a good listener.

Leadership Lesson 6: Be a role model both on and off the job for how you want people to behave. Integrity, Service, Excellence

Leadership Lesson 7: Be ethical. While compromise is important in life, ethics should not be compromised.

Leadership Lesson 8: Be upbeat. If you can’t see through fog and challenges as a leader, then who can?

Leadership Lesson 9: Persistence pays off. Government processes are tedious and require persistent focus and leadership.

Leadership Lesson 10: Have fun and have balance. Family and friends are important. Make time for them and yourself.

Q1. What’s the greatest challenge you’ve had as a leader in such a top leadership position?
A1. Making important decisions in a short amount of time without full information, but having to make a decision and move on.

Q2. Do you think inability to PCS and gain experience outweighs the cost of their PCSs? No assignments means no experience.
A2. Balance between experience vs. resources. It comes down to having the right Airman at right place at the right time.

Q3. Ma’am, what challenges do you run into being a female in such a high leadership position?
A3. I try to play to my strengths—Congress, budget, business. I value the team to support me in areas I know less about.

Q4. Who did you look up to as a mentor and why?
A4. Over time, I’ve had teachers and senior colleagues/mentors. I learned something different from each of them.

Q5. Is the Air Force less transparent than your former companies, and will you work to make information less restrictive and open?
A5. I’m a big believer in transparency, that’s why I’m doing this tweet chat.

Q6. I just heard from an Airman who was separated with Voluntary Separation Pay. He has still not heard from the Air Force. Will all Airmen be contacted?
A6. We’re working with our lawyers to get this fixed. While the timeline isn’t optimal, we’ll work to inform affected Airmen as soon as possible.

Q7. Do you have any reading recommendations – any books that helped you develop your leadership and decision-making skills?
A7. “Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton” by Lee Ellis – A POW Story; “The Medici Effect” by Frans Johansson on the power of diversity; and “Just Be Honest” by Steven Gaffney on the importance of communication.

Q8. Ma’am, with the current budget issues, will there still be opportunities for continuing education?
A8. Yes! Military tuition assistance is fully funded, GI Bill and other opportunities for civilian education.

Q9. Has there been any word on where the missileers’ new testing program has started and how it’s going so far?
A9. Monthly proficiency exams are now pass/fail, standard is the same – 90%. So far, so good.

Q10. When can we expect resolution of the Transitional Assistance Management Program insurance error impacting 1,000 VSP recipients? Many of them are in crisis.
Q10. This is on my radar big time. We’re working with the lawyers to get this fixed. Hopefully not much longer.

Q11. How do you spot a toxic leader from your level, and how should organizations deal with them?
A11. We’re doing 360 reviews on our top people, culture and climate assessments
- See more at: http://airforcelive.dodlive.mil/2014/11/secretary-of-the-air-forces-10-lessons-in-leadership-and-life/?source=GovD#sthash.kOTS9327.dpuf

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Developing Leaders is NDU’s Core Mission, Dempsey Says

By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

FORT LESLEY J. McNAIR, Washington, D.C., Nov. 18, 2014 – Developing leaders that champion innovation is the core mission of the National Defense University, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said at the assumption of the presidency of the institution today.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey placed the flag of the university in the hands of Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Frederick M. Padilla, who took over as president of “the Chairman’s university” from Ambassador Wanda L. Nesbitt during a ceremony at Lincoln Hall here.

The National Defense University is the premier joint professional military education institution in America. In addition to military officers, students include DoD civilians, civilians from other government agencies and international students.

“Of all the things that we have to preserve in the National Defense University it is that interagency, whole-of-government, multinational relationship building that will get us through what the future holds for us,” Dempsey said during remarks at the ceremony.

Preparing Senior Leaders

The university prepares students to be leaders in the national security world. Graduates are general or flag officers, ambassadors, and other senior leaders in other national security fields. They must be prepared to confront the world they find.

“I deal as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs with two sets of problems,” Dempsey said. “One set of problems is related to state-on-state interactions.”

These state-on-state interactions are generally “knowable,” the chairman said. Nation states have a body of knowledge among them. They have a history and that accumulated experience helps all understand how to interact as nations and what part the military instrument of power plays in these interactions, Dempsey said.

Militaries in state-on-state interactions tend to differentiate themselves by size and technology, the chairman said.

The other set of problems is unknowable, he said. “They are complex in the sense that every time you touch them, you change them, and when you change them you have to readjust your thinking about them,” Dempsey said. This includes terrorism, transnational criminal cartels, even international and national disasters and humanitarian crises.

“The use of the military instrument of power against nonstate actors -- or even against infectious disease as we’ve found -- are actually uses that are unknowable,” Dempsey said.

“In that world the way we differentiate ourselves is not by size and technology, but rather by the rate of innovation,” the chairman said.

Success Depends Upon Innovation

The fruits of success “will go to he or she that innovates more rapidly, more thoughtfully and more effectively,” the general said.

NDU gives students the opportunity to think about and prepare for these issues, “because very quickly after graduation your time to think will shrink rather rapidly,” the general said.

“What you learn and absorb here, and the person you are when you leave here, and the relationships you’ve built, that can’t be copied, can’t be sold, can’t be replicated,” the chairman said. “That’s what provides us with the decisive edge for the world that we face.”

The chairman said university leaders will make changes as needed so that NDU continues as “the preeminent leadership development institution in the world.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Airmen learn cultural diversity from NATO

by Senior Airman Timothy Moore
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

11/10/2014 - RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- The Kaiserslautern Military Community Top 3 Council presented the annual Cross-Cultural Awareness Professional Development Seminar at the U.S. Air Forces and Air Forces Africa Kisling NCO Academy auditorium, Nov. 5, 2014.

During the four-hour seminar, NATO leaders gave their perspective on cross-cultural awareness and engagement to KMC Airmen of all tiers and career fields.

"The purpose of this seminar is to showcase to our KMC military personnel what NATO is, how we fit into that picture and to give them the knowledge they need to operate in this environment," said Senior Master Sgt. Travis Robbins, USAFE-AFAFRICA senior enlisted international engagement manager.

The seminar included briefs on cultural diversity, ethics, NATO's mission and structure, and what it means to be an Alliance member.

Chief Warrant Officer Johannes Linnenbank, NATO School NCO Professional Department director, gave the briefs on cultural diversity and ethics.

"We all think we are open[-minded], but in a lot of situations we are not as open as we think," Linnenbank said. "I hope with these lectures we open minds."

Linnenbank spoke of being culturally sensitive to differences on thoughts such as timeliness, food and alcohol, male and female roles, and sexuality.

Robbins, who travels around talking to different NCO corps, said the seminar is a great way to show Airmen the importance of what the U.S. is doing overseas as a member of NATO.

"I think it's important for people serving, especially in this theater, to understand where they fit into that picture of NATO," Robbins said. "We are not just the U.S. Air Force occupying a base over here and acting as a transient center. We are here to integrate with these partners and work with them every day to make them better and make us better at the same time."

Master Aircrew Duncan Hide, Headquarters Allied Air Command senior NCO, echoed the sentiment during his brief on the NATO mission.

"The more we know about each other and the more we understand each other, the better we work together and the more interoperable we are," Hide said.

Robbins hopes that the Airmen that attended the seminar will take what they learned back to their work centers and discuss it.

"Hopefully, it helps people have a better understanding of why we are here, what NATO is and what we are moving forward," he said.

Though the seminar focused on cultural diversity in an international setting, it was also noted the same considerations could be applied to a local setting.

"We want to get people to think about, 'That could happen to me in an international setting, but that could also happen to me in my own headquarters,'" said Linnenbank. "How will you react? How can you react differently or better?"

Regardless of the location or organizations involved, the hope is the seminar helps increase the interoperability of all working together.

"We want to share and build in those relationships and partnerships," said Robbins. "As we move forward in whatever endeavor NATO, USAFE, the Army or whoever is charged with, we can operate together and understand each other better."

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Senior enlisted leaders discuss cross-generational leadership

by Airman 1st Class Joseph Raatz
Air Force Global Strike Command Public Affairs

11/5/2014 - BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- Cross-generational leadership was the topic of discussion during a seminar led by senior enlisted leaders at the Global Strike Challenge 2014 symposium here, Nov. 5.

Following the symposium's theme of empowering Airmen and bridging into the future, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Cody and Command Sgt. Maj. Patrick Alston, command senior enlisted leader at U.S. Strategic Command, hosted an engaging discussion to provide an enlisted viewpoint on the generation gap and its effect on modern military leadership.

"We have to bridge this generation gap in order to move forward into the future," Cody said. "These new men and women are the leaders of our military, or will be in the near future, and we have to understand that. I think the first step is that you have to acknowledge who they are as people, as individuals. You're not going to make them who you are, just as you're not the people who came before you."

Generational differences can create strain on the relationship between the leader and the led, Alston said. One way to alleviate this is through developing a deeper understanding of those differences.

"We have to understand that we are not dealing with the Airmen of yesterday, but with the Airmen of today," Alston said. "We have to transform our leadership abilities to reflect that and to be able to reach them. You have to reach into their circle, to understand their needs. Without you understanding them, your leadership methods may fall on deaf ears."

Cody and Alston discussed how differences in the way the current generation was raised can impact how they respond to different leadership styles.

"In order to be a profound leader, you have to understand the individuals that you're leading," Alston said. "The generation you're dealing with today is a generation that has a foundation of being inquisitive. They're not being inquisitive for the purpose of questioning your authority, but to be able to better understand the total meaning of the orders or direction you've given them. You have to adapt to that to remain an effective leader."

By creating a strong bridge between generations, Cody said, leaders can tap the full potential of their most important resource: people.

"It's about having meaningful and purposeful discussions with the men and women who serve," Cody said. "This bridge is built on mutual trust and respect. Over time we will work through all those dynamics and that bridge will be built and will become very strong."

"We will value and acknowledge each and every person that comes into our military for who they are what they bring to the table," he continued.  "And they do bring a tremendous amount to that table."

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Dempsey Discusses Leadership at Syracuse University

By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Nov. 2, 2014 – You don’t get to be the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff without learning something about leadership along the way.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey has been a leader at every military level throughout his 40-year career and he shared some of his insights with civilian and military students at Syracuse University in Central New York on Friday.

Leadship is More Than Giving Orders

Leadership is more than simply ordering people to do something. “You might try to bludgeon your way through, but it doesn’t work well,” the chairman said.

Dempsey gave the students a couple of tools to place in their toolboxes as they prepare for service in national security.

Leaders, he said, must get used to the fact that they are going to be asked to do more than one thing at a time. Leaders have to prioritize and junior leaders cannot rely on senior leaders to always set the agenda. “What is a priority today may not be tomorrow, and you have to be prepared for that,” Dempsey said.

He noted that if he had visited Syracuse last year, no one would be talking about Ebola or Crimea or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Leaders Present Solutions To Problems

He told the students to not simply pass a problem up the chain to the boss, but to pass it with a recommendation. This is just another way to say that leaders have to agile in their thinking and actions.

The chairman discussed risk. “Making decisions as a leader involves risk, and that risk is either manageable or not depending on how you deal with it,” he said. “It’s not a leader’s job to prevent risk, rather it is the leader’s job to enable subordinates to take risks.”

Every action has risk and there is no way to drive risk to zero, he said. Risk should not paralyze action.

Candor is a trait all must have. “If there’s more truth in the hallway, than in the meeting room, you’ve got problems,” Dempsey said.

He urged them to speak truth to power, and for leaders to not be afraid of disagreements.

Dempsey stated that competence and character are needed in equal measure. Leaders can’t have one without the other. “Competence will get you to the table, but character is what keeps you at the table,” he said.

Humility Matters

The chairman also discussed humility. He quoted an old saying that “you can get a lot done in Washington if you don’t care who gets credit.” He called it a truism of life in government. “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking less about yourself,” he said. “You should be optimistic, you should be ambitious, you should be self-confident.”

He urged the students to be approachable. “The best of our leaders are extremely approachable,” he said. Put people at ease and listen to what they have to say.

And he urged the students to never stop learning. Abraham Lincoln wrote long before he became president “I will study and prepare, and perhaps my day will come.”

“Commit to be a life-long learner, and if history calls on you, you will be prepared,” he said.

Dempsey ended with a quote from William Butler Yeats: “Talent perceives differences. Genius perceives unity.”

He said that right now the people of the United States perceive the differences among us all too easily. “You can’t miss the differences that separate us,” he said. “Genius perceives unity. Genius is what allows us to come together. That’s what this country does. That’s what sets us apart.”

He told the students to look around the room and note the differences. “I travel all around the world and I would never see an audience like this – men and women, different races, different religions – sitting here. You would never see an audience like this anywhere else in the world,” he said.

“That’s the genius of the American Dream,” he said. “You need to see genius, meaning you need to find unity. And if you do that, this country will be fine.”