Leadership development key ingredient for success tomorrow

LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- In world rapidly becoming more virtual, human relation skills - particularly leadership, is on the decline. Successful organizations in business and government today have to think quicker and work smarter to be effective. A key ingredient for success tomorrow is development of leaders at all levels.

John Maxwell's book Developing The Leaders Around You is an excellent "how-to" book to help leaders help others in reaching their full potential. John Maxwell's ideas compliment the Air Force's vision of personal, team, and institutional leadership competencies at the tactical, operational, and strategic level of development. This book belongs on the shelf of every supervisor, manager, and leader interested in leading effectively in the future.

Why John Maxwell? He has written nearly thirty books on leadership, ethics and team building. He is the owner and chair of several organizations geared toward training and equipping leaders. His experience in the field of leader development gives him the credibility to mentor the subject. His thesis is that you can't be a successful leader in isolation. For a leader to go to the next level, that of being a truly great leader, they must develop leaders around them; they must build a team for their vision to take root and flourish. Create a climate for growth for the organization and people within.

Leadership development ideas in the Air Force are gaining momentum. We are moving away from chance development, nepotism and stove-piped careers to systemic, deliberate development of the necessary skills and enduring competencies for Air Force leaders to be successful in the future. The Air Force leadership doctrine document AFDD 1-1 asserts that leadership and force development is composed of three levels; tactical, operational, and strategic. Within this model the mixture of leader competencies (personal, team, institution) vary.

At the tactical level officers are concerned with learning their primary skill and mission accomplishment. Personal leadership competency and interpersonal relations have primacy at this level. Maxwell's ideas complement this notion. One of his training acronyms can be applied immediately with those under your charge. Use "BEST" for nurturing potential leaders. "BEST" - believe in them, encourage them, share with them, and trust them.

At the operational level, Air Force leaders still use interpersonal skills but begin to bridge into the institutional. The main focus is on teams, team building, and establishing a climate that will create synergy, unity of action. Maxwell used a Napoleon Bonaparte example with respect to creating climate. Napoleon first determined what his men wanted most. Then he did everything possible to help them get it. He knew this was a key to successful motivation. Most leaders do the opposite. They first decide what they want. Then they try to persuade other to want the same thing as much as they do. The idea here is that leaders need to convey compassion and caring prior to trying to get followers to buy into their vision. To encourage positive growth, confidence and move into the realm of the great, leaders must be educators, bridging the gap between the vision and the familiar.

The strategic level is concerned with visioning and promoting institutional ideals. Personal and team competencies still apply but the challenges at this level deal more with the entire organization. Maxwell asserts that the best organizations and leaders in the world have long realized that leaders must be grown, cultivated and nourished. Not doing so threatens the very survival of the institution. The first duty then of every leader should be to create more leaders. I encourage you to conceptualize, build, and perpetuate a system and structure that builds good leaders at all levels. One successful method that I've seen at the wing/group/squadron level is hosting recurring leadership lunches with your subordinate leaders. The time invested will likely meet with resistance at first - be patient. It will bear fruit and likely become one of your more productive activities. In addition to creating vision, direction; you will soon be reproducing generations of leaders. Growing leaders multiplies influence. The Air Force doesn't need to look any further than its legacy of service chiefs to see this principle applied.

To meet tomorrow's leadership challenges and prevent the decline of human-relations skills, organizations should invest in leader training. Leadership development can not and does not happen by chance, especially if one wants to achieve the standards of excellence and versatility necessary for mastering today's increasingly virtual and changing environment. John Maxwell's book Developing The Leaders Around You is an excellent source book to assist in this training.