Commentary by Lt. Col. Lorenzo Bradley
1st Space Operations Squadron Commander
Former Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Robert D. Gaylor noted, “Sure, everyone wants to be an effective leader … You can and will be if you identify your strengths, capitalize on them and consciously strive to reduce or minimize the times you apply your style inappropriately.”
Admittedly, as a company grade officer, I was not much for pursuing endeavors related to my professional development as a leader, at least not proactively. I attended various training programs and accomplished my military correspondence courses, but focused my energies on my expertise as an acquisitions engineer. Ultimately, it took the advice and guidance of my mentor to understand that as I rose in rank and took on new responsibilities, what worked in the past would not always win the day in the future — I had to continually hone my skills as a leader.
One fateful day, I happened upon John Maxwell’s book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. I flipped through the pages and noticed it contained 21 short chapters consisting mainly of stories rather than bland, academic prose. I picked it up and was immediately taken in by the first chapter, “The Law of the Lid: Leadership Ability Determines a Person’s Level of Effectiveness.” The Law of the Lid states simply that, leadership ability is the lid that determines a person’s level of effectiveness. Meaning the lower an individual’s ability to lead, the lower the lid, or ceiling, on the individual’s potential to be effective; the higher the leadership ability, the greater the effectiveness. This initial reading evolved into a spirited pursuit of continual self-knowledge and self-improvement.
The development of a great leader is a lifelong process. While some individuals possess some natural leadership abilities, this skill must ultimately be learned through practice, self-discipline, and self-assessment. Knowing yourself and seeking self-improvement entails an awareness of your own strengths and weaknesses with regard to your technical, critical thinking, and leadership skills, and allows you to play to your strengths and identify areas for improvement.
As leaders, we must continuously evaluate our abilities and effectiveness to determine those areas requiring improvement and develop a plan for personal growth. Such a program should include professional reading, with a focus on specific areas such as critical thinking, time management, communication, conflict resolution, and the use of personal assessment tools. My personal program involves studying military history, military theory, foreign policy, and good, old-fashioned fiction in addition to taking advantage of some of the tools available by the Airman and Family Readiness Center, such as the “Four Lenses” exercise.
Air Force pioneer Brig. Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell provides an excellent example of knowing yourself. When Mitchell arrived in France in 1917, he quickly sought to overcome what he knew to be his own limitations as a flyer and air leader. He toured the combat zone on the Western Front, interviewing French and British air leaders at all levels. He regularly recorded his observations in a journal, and constantly sought to reflect on what he had seen. He could barely fly when he arrived in Europe; however, he made the effort and took the time to master the intricacies of flying some of the most sophisticated fighters of his day. In sum, he recognized his weaknesses and took the necessary steps to develop himself, soon becoming America’s senior tactical air commander of World War I.
To use the words of the master military theorist, Carl von Clausewitz, we must endeavor to “educate the mind of the future leader in War.” Chinese strategist Sun Tzu stated, “If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles.” America’s space systems are vital to the security of the United States, its allies, and are major contributors to international peace and stability. Today, we operate our space systems in a global environment characterized by interdependence, complexity, and continual change where the potential for adversary interference is growing.
The prosperity and security of our nation relies upon flawless space operations to achieve strategic advantage and strengthen the instruments of national power. Therefore, it is imperative we strive to increase our effectiveness as leaders through the process of self-knowledge and self-improvement. Heed the words of Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale, recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor and one of the most highly decorated officers in the United States Navy: “The first trait that is common among those who are assured a place in history is that of being predisposed to continual self-improvement.”