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My three 'Ps' of leadership

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- In my 29 years of military service, I have been exposed to several different leadership philosophies and styles from previous leaders and mentors. As I grew to the leader I am today, my leadership philosophy has remained the same. From my years in the enlisted corps to my current status as a field grade officer, the leadership philosophy of passion, purpose and people created the values I believe in, and will continue to guide me in creating a culture of Airmen and civilian development as a squadron commander.

Early in my career, I realized the personnel career field was one that many saw as a thankless job, one where finding the first “P,” passion, could be difficult. Being in a support role does not receive the glitz and glamour of career fields that are closer to the fight. As a personnelist, I was trained to process personnel actions ranging from updating performance reports to processing reassignment actions. These tasks seemed mundane and very monotonous, but I never allowed it to bring my morale down. I was proud of my job and what I was doing, and I developed a passion for it because I knew that what I was doing had a great impact on people’s careers.

Having passion is what motivates you, whether your motivations are spiritual, economic, social or personal. For me, all of these apply. It gives a unique lens on the world that shapes not only who you are, but connects you to opportunities you may pursue. As a squadron commander, I use this mindset of passion. I want to know what my Airmen and civilians are passionate about. I want to know what motivates them to get out of bed each day, put on their uniform or business suit and come to work to do the same job over and over again. I believe it is their display of passion in taking care of the Airmen and their families. I also believe it is up to me to show passion in our mission and vision in order for everyone to be passionate for the job of supporting the greatest Air Force in the world. It is this same passion that shapes their purpose in life and their career, which is the second of my three “Ps”.

A leader’s ability to inspire and move people with a compelling vision of a noble purpose shows many positive dividends. Inspirational leaders get people excited about a common mission. They provide a sense of purpose beyond day-to-day tasks or quarterly goals that often take the place of a meaningful vision. It is difficult to spread the contagion of excitement without a sense of purpose and direction. Articulating a shared purpose and vision brings unity in an organization. That shared belief motivates people and gives them a sense of belonging, exciting them to want to accomplish the mission.

A great example of someone who defined a true sense of purpose was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King’s sense of purpose gave him the strength and drive to continue to fight against insurmountable odds. His words were powerful and inspired a nation towards change. People did not follow him because of his idea of a changed America, they followed him because of their idea of a changed America.

I believe it is very important to give people a sense of purpose to what they do and why they are doing it. Just like Dr. King, I believe that giving people a solid vision and reason for what they are doing, just like having a strong passion for something, solidifies achieving something bigger than themselves. It is my job to give people in my squadron a sense of purpose. For example, when a dining facility employee prepares and serves a meal for an aircraft maintainer, whose job is to maintain a C-17A Globemaster III, that meal gave the maintainer the necessary fuel in his or her body to do their job to allow the pilot to complete their mission of delivering cargo to the fight. It is important to relate the mission to each Airman where they fit into mission success of the national military strategy.

Another relatable force support squadron example is of a personnelist working in the Military Personnel Section as a career development technician, processing reenlistment contracts and officer and enlisted performance reports. They must be given the purpose or overarching reason of why their job is significant. The timely and accurate processing of each document in the Military Personnel Data System impacts Airmen’s careers. If the personnelist does not know their purpose, this could easily cost someone’s promotion, their pay, ultimately impacting their families and their legacy of military service.

As a senior airman stationed at Holloman AFB, New Mexico, I was assigned to the Consolidated Base Personnel Office as a retirement and separations technician. I was in charge of preparing the necessary paperwork for personnel transitioning out of the Air Force. My supervisor was extremely strict and I always wondered why. He was a stickler for mistakes on the Department of Defense Form 214, Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty. As a young Airman, I did not know why he was so hard on me to get these correct each and every time. I asked him why was he so critical of the mistakes found on this particular form. He explained the purpose of the form to me. He said this form was the last official document a member would have encompassing their entire career. It had to be error-free because the form would be used for future employment opportunities and Veteran’s Affairs benefits. I then knew my purpose and why I was a key factor in the future of many retirees. This gave me a great sense of tenacity and appreciation for making the transition for military members seamless and less painful. Having a sense of purpose and knowing that accomplishing purpose-driven goals takes a team and emphasizes the significance of the last of my three “Ps”, the people.

People are the most important resource in the Air Force. They are the backbone to mission success. I believe leaders at all levels must recognize and motivate their people to want to do their job and develop them to be the future leaders of the Air Force. In the development of others, leaders who inspire create resonance and move people with a compelling vision and shared mission. Just like in business, if the people do not share the vision or goals, the organization can never reach its full potential. Leaders who genuinely show interest in cultivating people’s abilities will help them achieve their goals, capitalizing on their strengths. Providing candid, timely and constructive feedback are keys to the development of others. The development of people ensures the future of our Air Force. To further develop people, leaders must create an environment that generates active participation from others to enhance their communication skills, leading to a harmonious organization. These relationships fosters a common spirit and defines the organization’s identity.

Inspiring people, inspires me as a leader. I recall several events in my career where the people, when empowered, have done great things when they know and embrace the vision of the organization. As a Military Training Flight commander, I was responsible for five non-commissioned officers and more than 400 Airmen who had just graduated from Basic Military Training. When I started the job, I knew I wanted to give my NCOs my vision on how we will carry out our mission of maintaining the morale, health and welfare of the Airmen. Empowering them to do their respective jobs gave them self-confidence. They knew I was there to guide them and keep them focused on the vision. I believe the leadership style of treating people with respect and earning their respect creates a cohesive team. This enables mission success through the safety of the Airmen. I gave each of the NCOs the latitude to make decisions without micromanagement which reinforced their development as they progressed in their careers.

I also met with the Airmen each week in a commander’s call to discuss upcoming events and to recognize the Airmen who displayed exemplary performance in the program. The one topic I always covered was to tell them stories of the journey upon which they were about to embark. I told them that I was in their seat years ago and gave them my perspective of what it means to be an Airman, to embrace the core values and set goals for a successful career. I did this with premise of wanting to see each Airman reach the pinnacle of their potential because I realize how important they are to the success of the Air Force. As I stated, I’m inspired by inspiring others. When I receive an email or phone call from one of these Airmen thanking me, I reemphasize that it was them, not me who was the inspiration and I challenge them to continue to do great things for the Air Force.

The position of a squadron commander is the most challenging and most rewarding job I believe I will ever have in my career but having adopted the three “Ps” of leadership of passion, purpose and people will continue to guide me through a successful command. I fully realize I must have the passion for the job and will display this passion along with my vision to all the members of my squadron. Harnessing this passion will give my squadron the purpose we need to accomplish our shared goals of taking care of the Airmen and families on base. I also know that in order to meet these goals it is the people, the most important resource, that will take care of the mission. Lastly, I know it is up to me to use my three “Ps” to create an environment and a culture within my squadron to develop my Airmen, military and civilian, to be future leaders in the Air Force.