September Commander's Corner
By Lt. Col. Mark Hall, 169th Communications Flight
/ Published August 27, 2012
MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, South Carolina -- Do you ever wonder what technologies we take for granted today will be unknown to the next generation? Today's kids have grown up without floppy disks, record players, cassette tapes and televisions with picture tubes. Their children will eventually make fun of them for the slowness of high-speed internet, the lack of clarity of HD television and how their smart phones really were not that smart. However, there is one quality we often take for granted that should not fundamentally change regardless of much technology changes--leadership.
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Roy recently published an article on the importance of what he termed analog leadership. He stated, "As electronic communication becomes more widely used, our face-to-face interaction skills are beginning to suffer." Many times in our high-tech world, people believe they are part of the solution when they forward an e-mail. Using the send button to shift the problem to someone else's inbox is not leadership by example. According to Chief Roy, there is a low-tech solution to the high-tech challenge. "Analog leadership means temporarily putting down the iPads and Android tablets, logging out of Facebook and Twitter.... It means shutting off the technology and talking to each other face-to-face."
Analog leadership means getting out from behind your desk and getting to know your Airmen by more than their Facebook screen name. It means making sure they know their job, making sure they know what is expected of them, and making sure they know they are important to the success of the mission. Another term for this concept is Management by Walking Around. In Japan, it's called the Gemba walk, which means "go and see for yourself." The analog leadership benefits of "seeing for yourself" are increased personal involvement, enhanced listening skills (for both you and your Airmen) and recognition that, for the most part, everyone in your organization wants to go a good job.
The book "In Search of Excellence", by Thomas J. Peters offers four tactics for using this method. First, be an active participant. Don't sit behind a desk and delegate by e-mail or phone calls. By going to your Airmen who do the work, you can clearly communicate what needs to be done, and you can answer their questions and offer suggestions on the spot.
Second, you'll get a feel for the pulse of what is happening with your Airmen. It helps you see who is doing the work and who isn't. You can spot small problems before they become large problems. You will see who needs more training, and it will help you better understand the work they do.
Third, listen to employee's suggestions, problems and complaints. Younger Airmen often feel their supervisor is too busy or does not care about what is important to them. When you engage your Airmen on a regular basis they will see you care and are more likely to come to you with problems rather than cover them up. Make this an opportunity to mentor and coach. The result is a more resilient Airmen, and it makes you a stronger leader and a true wingman. This also enhances communication, raises morale and increases productivity.
Finally, when your Airmen see you actively engaged with them and their work, you will build their confidence and trust in you as a leader. You will be able to motivate your Airmen to reach higher goals, improve themselves and help team McEntire continue to succeed as we have in the past.
To succeed as an analog leader, the first commitment you have to make is to yourself. "Lead or get out of the way," were the words of wisdom to me from General Williams when I took command. If you are not committed to your Airmen, they will see right through you and you will do more harm than good.
Our AEF deployment was a great success, and now it is time to start preparing for the challenge of our ORI next November. It is time to be an analog leader and raise yourself and your team to the challenges that lie ahead.