Leadership Lessons: Full range leadership

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- After only five months of being assigned to the 348th Reconnaissance Squadron, I found myself on the hook to attend Squadron Officer School down at balmy Maxwell AFB, Alabama. After quickly accumulating over 450 total hours in the RQ-4 Global Hawk, I saw the TDY as a vacation of sorts.

I was only partially correct. Though I wasn't quite working the hours and weekends required for the 348th RS mission, the curriculum and environment kept us engaged and invested in the success of our squadrons, our flights, and ourselves. To be honest I expected the 14 of us captains in our flight to get a rehashing of the Air and Space Basic Course I attended as a 2nd lieutenant Aircraft Maintenance Officer, which was mostly the same material we learned in the Reserve Officer Training Course as cadets.

Though some of the curriculum again covered abstract concepts like leadership, followership, and communication, the material introduced some new ways to help compartmentalize and define different portions of the concepts. This approach, at least for me, allowed me to better comprehend and understand the concepts. One such tool was the Full Range Leadership Model, which provided different styles of Transactional and Transformational leadership. The briefings and discussions helped provide us with historical examples of each leadership style, and the instructors encouraged us to try each of the styles throughout the course.

We were provided with many formal and informal opportunities to lead at the flight level, like solving logic problems, building strategies for wargaming and physical challenges, and running day-to-day functions of the flight. To further simulate the constraints we face every day, our resources, time, and communication were restricted by varying degrees. While solving the problems correctly and on time were the ultimate goals, the point of these often frustrating exercises were to put our skills to the test, and to highlight our strengths and weaknesses. Using the experiences of ourselves and others, we learned from the collective successes and failures of the flight.

To add further measures of leadership and officership, SOS had an impressive repertoire of speakers to teach us valuable knowledge and lessons from their experiences and expertise in their respective fields. They ranged from high-level U.S. Air Force commanders like Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast and Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson, to civilian negotiators and strategists like Peter Zeihan, and former POWs like Maj. Gen. (ret.) Edward Mechenbier and Medal of Honor recipient Lt. Col. (ret.) Leo Thorsness. Many spoke candidly regarding the current and near-future state of the Air Force, the military, and the world in general, and encouraged us to have the integrity and courage to change or "buck" the often outdated system when there's a better alternative. It was refreshing to hear their honest opinions and progressive thinking.

With those lessons and tools provided, the majority of our day-to-day time was spent in discussion amongst the flight members. On day one, our flight commander told us his job was to brief the material and guide our discussions, but we would learn more from each other. We applied and shared our experiences with the rest of the group, which ultimately improved the flight as a whole. Preconceptions of other Air Force Specialty Codes were often debunked, and many challenges we felt unique to our specific jobs proved to be more common across the service. We also had the opportunity to spend a day with students from the Senior NCO Academy, who added valuable insight and experience. With those commonalities and forged comradery, we've found new ways to approach and solve problems, more examples of leadership successes and failures, and a better understanding of operations beyond our shops, our jobs, our AFSCs.

To put things in perspective, when I walked in to my flight, 95 percent of my flightmates had no idea what the Global Hawk does, or what support our mission requires. By the end, even the chaplain in our flight knew what we could do, and the sort of ops tempo felt throughout the Remotely Piloted Aircraft community.  Conversely, I learned more about the Chaplain Corps, Acquisitions, Aerial Port, Flight and NICU nurses, Cyber, and aircrew from various airframes.

Thanks to the experience I had at SOS, I felt I've acquired more tools to use in my job and AF career, and a bigger picture view of the Air Force and our mission. I was looking forward to getting back to the mission at hand, but I feel this course (now required for 100 percent of captains) was ultimately effective and will hopefully continue to effectively develop and polish the future leaders of the Air Force.