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Commentary: Developing leaders for the future generation

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Kurt Kolch
  • 718th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron
One of the fundamental differences between management and leadership is taking care of people.

Leaders take care of their people. At the same time, leaders are also charged with developing their people. This is an area I feel we can always use some help and guidance.

For the most part, the Air Force assigns people to positions, so we don't have the luxury of hiring who we think is best. Instead, we accomplish the mission with the Airmen assigned. We need to do more though. We need to prepare these Airmen for their next position and grade. We also need to prepare the Airmen who will replace us. This is not a function owned solely by our PME system. All supervisors and leaders are responsible for developing those Airmen assigned to them.

We have several processes to help us including the enlisted and officer performance reports and the feedback system. These processes are good when accomplished properly but they are not enough.

Leaders need to go above and beyond the feedback and performance report to develop our future leaders. We need to provide our Airmen with opportunities to excel and achieve their goals. We need to provide them training opportunities beyond PME. We need to provide challenges that will enable these future leaders to grow. We need to spend time with the future leaders and provide them mentorship.

These are concepts from John C. Maxwell's book, Developing The Leaders Around You. The book also states leaders need to share themselves and what they have learned. They need to be teachers and mentors, and most importantly, provide continuous feedback. When done properly, developing leaders is very time consuming.

This needs to happen for every member of the Air Force at every level of their career. As leaders, we evaluate everyone in our unit and determine who is doing well and demonstrates potential. It would be natural to devote more time and effort to these people to help them develop. We can't spend too much time on our rising stars to the detriment of other people in our units.

We recognize not everyone in the Air Force plans to stay in until retirement. Some great people see opportunities on the civilian side, and they make the leap. We also need to remember we are in the business of defending our country and some Airmen may give their lives. If we put all our efforts into making one person in a section a great leader and that person is killed or leaves the service, who will step up and take the lead? In a conflict, we don't have time to pick the next person and provide them training on leadership. We need someone who will quickly step up and take charge.

It would be helpful if this person had some training on leadership and knew how to take charge. Ideally, if each Airman in a section receives training on leadership, one of them will recognize the need and immediately fill the gap of the fallen leader.

So, as leaders, you should know your people. Know their abilities and limitations. Provide the mentorship and training to reduce the limitations and increase the abilities. It is not enough to simply observe their performance, provide feedback midway through the reporting period and write a performance report. Continuous feedback is critical so that Airmen know where they are excelling, where they are falling short and most importantly, how to improve. We also need to provide opportunities above and beyond the normal duties. This will help our Airmen grow.

Developing the next generation of leaders is an inherent responsibility for leaders and supervisors at every level. Airmen at all levels need training, coaching and mentoring to ensure they can step up to the next level. The success of the mission depends on developing future leaders.