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News > Commentary - Intrusive leadership: Getting to know your people
Dover AFB
Lt. Col. Charles Kelm
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Intrusive leadership: Getting to know your people

Posted 3/13/2012   Updated 3/13/2012 Email story   Print story


Commentary by Lt. Col. Charles Kelm
Commander, 436th Civil Engineer Squadron

3/13/2012 - DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- Intrusive Leadership--the first time I heard these two words used together I thought someone had used an oxymoron too liberally. Intrusive by definition means to come without invitation, and who doesn't welcome leadership, so the two didn't seem like a natural marriage of words to me.

It wasn't until recently when I truly realized the meaning of iIntrusive leadership. During a casual conversation outside the office, I was speaking with a co-worker who was beside herself because her daughter joined the Army. Many of us have served or are serving, so this comment by itself didn't seem out of the norm. However, my co-worker had no intentions of her daughter joining the service before she finished college. She was adamant her daughter was to finish college, go on to law school and then make her decision to serve. By her daughter altering "her" plans, my co-worker was experiencing a significant emotional event and I was oblivious to it. Every day, my co-worker and I talk about the days' events, places around Dover to enjoy and our families. But I had never stopped and really asked her about what her children were doing (not just how are they). I had never been "intrusive" on what was truly affecting her, and I should have been.

What I realized during that conversation is, intrusive leadership means "getting into the weeds" with your personnel, finding out what's going on in their lives. It's more than asking "how are you" or "did you have a good weekend?" It means asking which facilities were they given job orders for the day, what tail number they have to swap out before the 5 p.m. launch, what post they were given during guard mount, or if they packed a tuna sandwich for lunch. It means asking them if their daughter sold the remaining 800 boxes of Girl Scout cookies to reach her troops goal or if their family was successful in getting the 3.8 percent home loan in order to purchase their very first home. It means asking Airmen if they think the unit is heading in the right direction, if they have an idea for improvement; hearing what they have to say and then understanding their perspective.

Every Airmen wants to feel a part of the group--the wing--and needs recognition. This does not mean we need to recite chapter and verse of every issue our Airmen face each day. It does mean we should dedicate a few minutes on a regular basis, to informally chat about the days, weeks, or months milestones and capture what is important to them. During the exchange, we should be in a listening mode focusing on their personal goals, job and perhaps hobbies or upcoming weekend events. It's important for our Airmen to have time to express themselves about the events at hand.

To illustrate the importance of listening to our Airmen, when asked why some leaders in time of war instill in their men and women the willingness necessary to perform complex and dangerous missions, Gen. J.P. Ryan, Air Force chief of staff from 1969 to 1973, responded, "As you well know, people have been trying to find the answer to that one for years...Your success depends on the fulfillment of the activities of your men [Airmen]. You by yourself are rather helpless. I asked them questions. I found out what they were doing. I was interested in what they were doing. You learn a hell of a lot this way." Not only did Ryan take time to ask his people what they thought, but he took time to understand their perspective and learn from it.

With this thought in mind, I would encourage you to exercise "intrusive leadership" the next time you walk the flightline with our Airmen. After all, they are our #1 responsibility!

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