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Enhancing Air Force and Army Military Leadership  (Part 2)

By M. Shea Young


Many times poor leadership often results from a micro-manager. When an individual is put in a position to lead, let him lead and then hold him accountable.


According to Major General Newman (1981):

When you give a man a job, that means he is a subordinate-which automatically makes you as well as him responsible for how well it gets done. It is a serious mistake to assign a duty, then continually and needlessly try to guide and control in detail the hands of the man you give it to. (p. 181)


One of the great things about the military is its structure. The chain of command is very effective if everyone involved acts according to the rules.

An active duty Army Soldier explains (2002):

My ward master, who is an E-6, stops the flow of communication between supervisors and their subordinates. Although he has Sergeants underneath him to supervise and are listed as official supervisors for their subordinates, he continuously goes to the subordinates himself without informing their supervisors.  This creates chaos within the unit. He is a manager and that is exactly what he needs to do; manage, not micro-manage (J. J. Young, personal communication, September 29, 2002).


Stability helps promote effective leadership. Because of the military’s mission, members are constantly moving. SSgt Holt (2002), an active duty Air Force member says, “Air Force commanders are only allowed to be in commanding positions for two years. It is hard to have consistent effective leadership when command turn-over is so high” (K. Holt, personal communication, September 28, 2002). The more frequently commanders are asked to move, the less stability there is in their leadership. When troops start to trust a commander and understand his leadership style, he moves on, leaving them with a whirlwind of changes to come.

According to Gabriel (1985):

Historically, there is one thing worse than a large officer corps for engineering incompetence, and that is an officer corps in a state of perpetual motion. Stability of assignments is important to combat effectiveness. Officer-corps stability is also important to the development of unit cohesion, without which combat effectiveness and military competence simply cannot exist. The bonding of men in battle can occur only when subordinates see their officers as competent, trustworthy, and dependable leaders. (pp. 9-10)


Because retention is so low, the number of promotions has increased. This means that the military has younger troops that are eligible to become supervisors. In the Air Force it is possible to have a twenty-one year old in a supervisory position. Flanagan (1985) explains, “While basic laws underlie command authority, the real foundation of successful leadership is the moral authority, derived from professional competence and integrity. Competence and integrity are not separable” (p. 112). One becomes an effective leader by learning from experiences. However, there must be a foundation. That is why leadership training is of the utmost importance. Generally speaking, in a twenty-five year military career members are only required to take three leadership courses. How can military members be professionally competent as leaders with such a small amount of training? Basic leadership principles remain the same. However, there are always new ideas on how to handle situations.  The current system is not an effective way for the military to promote continuous effective leadership. Leaders need to be mentors for their troops. They need to set an example for younger troops in order to cultivate them for leadership responsibilities. They cannot possibly do this unless they have the tools to do it with.

According to Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, Jim Finch (2002):

As we look forward, our Air Force will no doubt evolve to meet technological advances and new missions required of a changing world. During this evolutionary process, we must ensure our greatest asset, our people; have the best equipment, facilities, training and support available to meet the important role they continue to play in America’s security. We must also continue to emphasize programs and initiatives that recognize the contributions and sacrifices our Air Force families make to the overall mission. (p. 5)


With all the current events going on in the world today, some might consider us to be in the middle of a world crisis. When trouble occurs it is imperative that the military bonds together. The smallest display of poor leadership can create big problems. Research has been done. The Army and Air Force have proof that leadership problems exist within the service. Members are dissatisfied, therefore they are getting out. The military is losing quality people because they are not taking this problem seriously. By taking just a few steps, the military can enhance its leadership capabilities.


By implementing more mandatory leadership training, the military can positively affect its leaders.  Leadership training should be provided annually instead of three times in a whole 25-year career.  Troops that gain supervisory responsibilities between the ages of 21 and 26 should have training twice in one year. This training session should last at least one week. I have noticed that many times supervisors at a young age are elated that they have this new power over someone else’s life. All too often they are very eager to reprimand and are less concerned with their troops’ well-being. Military members face personal and professional problems just as individuals do in the civilian sector. Overall, there are many more demands placed upon military members. Therefore, supervisors need to be there for their troops.


The military has evolved throughout the years. The basic structure remains the same, but leadership strategies have changed. Career supervisors need to have annual leadership training so they do not get stuck in the rut of doing things the old way. Sometimes members who have been supervisors for a while, tend to retaliate against change. They cannot see beyond their own ideas. This creates a big problem. Members coming in the military today expect more than members did ten years ago. They want fair treatment. They want to be recognized for a job well done. They want to provide a healthy quality of life for their family members. Career supervisors need to understand this and should want to promote it.


There is no doubt the military needs to provide consistent, quality leadership training for all supervisors. But all the training in the world is not going to have an overall positive effect unless all supervisors are held accountable to the same standards. Commanders need to make sure their supervisors are doing their jobs, even if they have to physically check things out themselves. However, commanders need to be skilled in leading their people and be held accountable as well. One Army active duty Colonel explains to her troops, why should I praise you for the job you are expected and required to do? You should only get praise when you go above and beyond. This is the kind of behavior that the military must stop. Many commanders have the audacity to ask, why are my troops getting out? If they were doing their jobs effectively, they would know.

According to Major General Newman (1981):

The following is a mimeographed sheet that bears directly on the importance of the individual: I’m the person who goes into the orderly room and patiently waits while the first sergeant or AST {Army Supply Technician} does everything but pay attention to me. I’m the person who goes into the supply room and stands quietly by while the supply sergeant and his assistant finish their little chitchat. I’m the person who does not grumble while I clean rifles in addition to my own while other people wander aimlessly around the center. Yes, you might say I’m a pretty good person. But do you know who else I am? I AM THE PERSON WHO NEVER EXTENDS MY ENLISTMENT, and it amuses me to see you spending many hours and dollars every year to get me back into your unit, when I was there in the first place. All you had to do to keep me was



This example of poor leadership happens time and time again in the Army and Air Force. The military wastes so much money because of poor leadership. Poor leadership causes members to get out. Therefore new members must be trained, which costs more money. As I mentioned before, it is time the military implemented a quality, consistent leadership program for all supervisors. However, holding commanders and supervisors at all levels accountable is necessary for the success of a new improved training program. All commanders and supervisors across the board need to abide by the same leadership standards.


First and foremost, supervisors need to inform their troops whenever possible. Flanagan (1985), says, “It is perfectly clear that well-informed troops who believe in their mission, who believe that what they are doing is right and proper, will sacrifice their comfort-and their lives, if necessary-to accomplish their mission” (p. 103).  Also, Lieutenant Rivera (2002), explains, “Leaders need to clearly explain the mission, vision, and concept of operation to their troops” (M. A. Rivera, personal communication, September 15, 2002).  If troops are just told to do a job and they have not been informed as to why, how will they ever learn? Granted, there are those times commanders are not able to provide information because of the lack of opportunity or time, or the information may even be classified.  But in peacetime situations and whenever possible, commanders need to keep their troops informed.


Supervisors need to be able to admit their mistakes and learn from them. Many times supervisors avoid admitting their mistakes at all costs. As human beings, we tend to steer away from acknowledging our wrong-doings. If a supervisor does not admit mistakes he will lose the respect of his troops. Not to mention, he will probably continue down the path of leadership destruction.

According to Flanagan (1985):

A humble man is not necessarily a Milquetoast.  A humble man is, however, one who does not take all the credit himself for his unit’s accomplishments. He does not hog the show. He is not afraid to give credit where credit is due. A humble man is generally a self-confident one who knows his own capabilities. He is also not afraid to take the rap for his unit’s failings and to admit that he made a mistake. (p. 101)


Commanders and supervisors must live by their own philosophies. They must set the example for their subordinates.   According to Selves (2000), General Meyer says, “Character is an ingrained principle expressed consciously and unconsciously to subordinates, superiors and peers alike- honesty, loyalty, courage, self-confidence, humility and self-sacrifice. Its expression to all audiences must ring with authenticity” (p. 104).  Being a supervisor is a very big responsibility. One supervisor can make the difference in whether a member decides to re-enlist or not. Troops watch every move their supervisors and commanders make. It is important that you are following the standards that you are holding your troops to.


Another important attribute of a good leader is caring. Supervisors should care about the welfare of their troops. It can make a difference in how they perform their job.

According to Selves (2000), General Wickham explains:

Caring means many things. It means making sure soldiers get fed, get paid, and get a place to sleep at night. But it also means giving them solid, realistic training and assuring that high standards are ingrained. Sometimes, caring means not letting soldiers sleep at night… Show the people that are committed to you that you really do care about them, because that is a discipline that I think is very valuable to learn in peacetime, and it’s essential in wartime. (pp. 91, 335)


Supervisors must keep their troops’ best interest at heart. They must help them grow.

They must provide the environment for them to grow in.

According to Selves (2000), General Reimer says:

The second point of my leadership philosophy is to create an environment where people can be all they can be. Many soldiers enlisted under this recruiting slogan, and we have a responsibility to assist them in developing mentally, physically, spiritually, and socially to their full potential. It is essential that leaders develop the initiative of subordinates. Initiative will be stifled and creativity destroyed unless soldiers feel they have been given a fair chance to mature and grow. Every soldier must feel he is being treated fairly and that you care and are making an honest attempt to ensure he or she reaches full potential. (p. 34)


A supervisor must know their own job and exactly where they fit into the system. Supervisors must insist that their subordinates know their job as well. Also, make sure the trainer is trained. It won’t do any good to train your subordinates incorrectly. Effective leadership covers many different areas. It is imperative for supervisors to make certain their subordinates are properly trained, in order to promote confidence within the ranks.


Many times good work on the job goes unnoticed. Supervisors have a responsibility to encourage and praise their subordinates. Praise helps to build self-esteem and confidence. Every supervisor should aspire to build their troops up.

According to Flanagan (1985):

Reward exceptional performance in public; correct and chew out inferior or slovenly performance in private. Make the punishment fit the crime. With compassion: Know your men, their needs and their problems. Try to solve them. Listen. Take care of your men and be loyal to them. Shield them from harassment from higher head quarters. Train them for their jobs. (p. 119)


In my Air Force career there were many of my commanders that I rarely ever saw. It is hard to know and respect someone that you never even see. There is one commander that I remember so well. In my eyes he was an outstanding commander. I had just gotten assigned to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. My commander’s name was Major Chapman. Major Chapman met with all of his enlisted troops when they arrived. When I first met with my commander, he asked all about me. He asked where I came from, what job I did, did I have a family and what were my goals. He also explained to me what expectations he had of me, what he would tolerate and what he would not. He was very upfront. The most important thing I remember about that conversation is that he said, as a commander his job was to serve me and look out for my best interest. That is exactly what he did. Major Chapman made weekly rounds to visit all of his enlisted troops. He always asked what we liked about our jobs or what we did not. He also asked if we had any concerns or suggestions for improvement.  He had quarterly forums with enlisted members at the dining hall. We would eat and discuss any problems or concerns that we had. None of our supervisors were around. It was just the commander and us. This seemed to be very effective. Major Chapman had an amazing impact on my life. He let me know what a real commander was all about. In my eight years in the Air Force I can honestly say he is the only commander that I can speak highly about. He is a perfect example of effective leadership. The military needs to produce more commanders and supervisors like Major Chapman.


There is not just one solution to improving military leadership. There are several things that need to be done. First, military supervisors need more consistent leadership training.  Next, commanders and supervisors should have open forums individually with their troops to discuss concerns or problems.  This should be done quarterly. Subordinates should be allowed to survey their supervisor’s abilities at any time. For the first five years a supervisor is in a supervisory position, mandatory surveys should be conducted quarterly by those supervisors’ subordinates. Those surveys should go directly to the commander. For supervisors that have supervised longer than five years surveys should be conducted annually. Also, surveys should be conducted on unit commanders annually by their subordinates. These surveys should go to the commander’s boss.  Good leadership principles should start at the top and flow down. Commanders should instruct all supervisors what the expectations are for them as supervisors! Everyone needs to perform from the same sheet of music. Commanders must hold all supervisors accountable. It is very important to keep the flow of communication going between the commander and his troops. Consistent feedback is a necessity for effective leadership.


All supervisors within a unit should have quarterly sessions regarding leadership. This would be a time for supervisors to get suggestions or help from others. This session would help to make certain that all supervisors are following the same standards. Also, posters and cards with the previous mentioned standards of an effective leader should be posted in every supervisor’s office or carried on their person.  Therefore, supervisors and commanders alike will have no excuse as to what their responsibilities are. Also, supervisors that are not upholding effective leadership standards will be reprimanded. Commanders will hold all supervisors accountable for their actions. Commanders will listen to the voices of the lower ranking troops. 

Commanders will also remain in a commanding position for at least four years, instead of two.

            According to Gabriel (1985):

The greater the stability of officers in command and staff positions, the greater the likelihood that they will develop a close knowledge of their men and their units’ abilities. When officers remain with their units for long periods, they can develop, learn from their mistakes, and grow in competence. (p. 9)


Yes it is true, military members want more. They want more pay, more benefits, higher pensions, and less frequent family separations. However, they want job satisfaction just as well.  Most people will sacrifice extra benefits for the sake of job satisfaction. It is impossible to enjoy going to work everyday when you are just a body filling a position and when your leaders care nothing about you except that you get the job done. Military members live a stressful life-style. They took an oath to give their life to their country. This should not be taken lightly. The least they are owed is to be supervised by trained leaders. 


Effective leadership is important to the success of any organization.  Leadership has an astounding effect on how well the military can perform its job. The military has one of the most important jobs there is, protecting our freedom. Therefore, not only should military officials be concerned with why military members are getting out and how to keep current members in, the American public should as well. The American public should be concerned with their military’s leadership capabilities. During these times of worldly hostilities and acts of terrorism, people need to believe they are being protected by their military forces. This is not the time for our military leadership to fail us. We must plan for tomorrow and act today.

Consistent leadership training is essential for military leaders. Leaders should have the tools available to help them be effective leaders. In this article I have discussed the differences in the military officer and enlisted personnel. I also discussed demands imposed upon military members, leadership training that Air Force and Army members currently receive, problems caused by the lack of effective leadership, and solutions to enhance military leadership. The military is losing quality people because of untrained leaders and because of the lack of accountability.


It is time the military puts a stop to it!


Part 1 of this article was published in the July 2003 issue of weLEAD Online Magazine!


Comments to: editor@leadingtoday.org






About the author:


M. Shea Young recently completed her B.S. in Management degree at Bellevue University. She is currently a Clinical Supervisor for a Home Health Agency. Previously she was a stay at home mom after serving in the United States Air Force for eight years. While in the Air Force she was an office manager at a Women's Health Clinic, as well as an education and training specialist.





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