Lt. Col. Galler, 425 ABS/CC: Leadership ... observations from a year in command

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Mark Galler
  • 425th Air Base Squadron commander
Leadership is a craft which can be taught, developed and should be constantly improved. For the purpose of this article, we'll look at four factors consistently found in successful leaders and a leader who exemplifies each of them. These factors include: positive communication; knowing the strengths of your people; trusting your team; and connecting on a personal level. This list is by no means complete, but is common to the leaders who have made a lasting impression during my year in command.

Positive communication: During the past year, I've had the opportunity to work on the activation of NATO Land Command Headquarters in Izmir. Frequently, I've been part of updates to Lt. Gen. Frederick "Ben" Hodges, the new NATO LANDCOM Headquarters commander. When meeting with the general, one thing is striking - he is always crystal clear in his intent and consistent in how he strategically communicates. I've never started or left a meeting with the general without fully understanding where he was heading with an issue, or what was expected of the team. The mission can get clouded by numerous competing factors, but with a clear understanding of a leader's intent these factors are much less distracting. As General Colin Powell once said, "Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers who can cut through argument, debate and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand."

Know the strengths of your people: When I found out I'd be commanding a squadron approximately 400 miles away from where the wing was located, I wondered if out of sight would mean out of mind. That has not at all been the case. In fact, every time I've met or had a teleconference with our wing commander, it felt like he'd just come out of a pre-brief on my squadron's activities. Col. Chris Craige, 39th Air Base Wing commander, knows his people and the issues they're working. Leaders must understand the strengths of their people, the tasks at hand and balance expertise and natural talent with the opportunities to develop future leaders. The director of operations, first sergeant, superintendent and I strive to go through the same thought process when we assign higher headquarters tasks within the squadron. Many times we task according to Air Force Specialty Codes, but we balance that with potential for development.

Trusting your team: Rear Adm. Grace Murray once said, "You manage things; you lead people." In military terms, the difference between leadership and corporate management is de-centralized execution. In civilian terms, that's trust. Managing details is limiting in itself. One person cannot manage every aspect of a campaign or every flight in a wing. We trust those who earn it. I'm amazed by the number and diversity of issues happening in the 39th Mission Support Group. While Col. Sean Gallagher, 39th Mission Support Group commander, has a pulse on all the major issues, he trusts his leaders to make the right decisions while always making himself available for a vector check. Trust fosters trust, and I've been amazed by the creative solutions my squadron's members have developed when given the opportunity.

Connecting on personal level: I can think of no better example for this attribute than Lt. Gen. Ralph Jodice II, commander, NATO HQ Allied Air Command Izmir. I recently attended the 'Farewell Gala for NATO HQ Allied Air Command Izmir,' and when the general was giving his remarks, I was taken by how his tone and perspective were very much the same as when I had my first office call with him. Not many have the gift of being able to connect to a room with hundreds of people, and to do it on a personal level. In every interview, official function and even his written correspondence, the general's character comes through. The general genuinely projects his concern for the mission and his people. Gen. Eisenhower once said "Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it." Connecting on a personal level is one way to accomplish this, and hearing the stories of my Airmen has been a great place to start.

The craft of leadership is a skill leaders should constantly be learning and developing in order to improve. Communicating a direction, knowing the strengths of those you work with, trusting your team and connecting on a personal level are some of the many attributes that make successful leaders. Furthermore, one doesn't have to look to the past to learn about leadership. While history is important, there are great leaders all around us focused on the mission and the people who make that mission happen.