Growing into leadership: from Airman to NCO

  • Published
  • By Staff Sergeant Nicholas Larsen
  • 47th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

Leadership is a hard concept to fully grasp, especially when you are new to being a leader. The Air Force looks to develop its Airmen, especially those who are promoting, by instilling leadership into their training.


Before any Airman is allowed to become a non-commissioned officer (NCO), they must meet a few requirements; they must be competent in their technical skills, test well for promotion, and be at least 3 years in service with 6 months at the rank of Senior Airman. 


Even if they complete all of that, there is one final hurdle to overcome, Airman Leadership School (ALS). This month-long school is meant to hone your craft as a leader and help you take a look at your needs as a leader.


Throughout my month at ALS, we would have NCO’s and senior NCO’s come in and mentor us.


During these sessions, one question frequently asked was, “How many of you are nervous about being an NCO?”


I’ll fully admit, I was one of the Airmen in that classroom who raised my hand.


The transition from focusing primarily on your own work to overseeing other Airmen is a daunting one.


Many times I had thoughts run through my head about how I would lead Airmen, would I mess up? How well would I be able to provide mentorship to the Airmen? Would I be too strict, too lenient? Would I be a micromanager?


My time at ALS helped provide answers to my questions.


Throughout the course, there was a continuous flow of information, discussions, scenarios and projects. Each crafted to give us an understanding of our leadership styles and tactics.


Scenarios would be presented to us as a class or in small groups, allowing us to go over what we would do. Unlike many other classes I’ve taken part in, there often wasn’t one correct answer. It would vary by the experiences of the person answering the question.


Leadership classes were also eye-opening by showing me how my, and others' jobs, play a part in the bigger picture of the Air Force. During the course, we put together presentations about how our jobs influenced the mission of the Air Force.


My own was on how public affairs plays a role in deterrence against adversaries, seeing as how we show readiness and power to opponents of the United States.


At first, I was confused about how this would play into the larger role of leading Airmen; however, during our discussions about our careers I realized how large of an influence this could have.


By being able to show Airmen how small jobs add up to the bigger picture, it gives them the context of why their job matters.


If not for the mission being completed then how many others would be affected in the military that rely on their job?


As an example, for lack of security forces, people would be able to venture onto base without getting checked or onto the flightline. Without the medical group pilots couldn’t be checked and allowed to fly.  Each of us play a vital role in the larger mission of the Air Force.


ALS also helped me look inward at my own leadership styles.


I discovered that my leadership style tends to look out for those under me I but can be resistant to new ideas or changing tactics without what I see as a good reason. While I knew part of this, being able to take a look at my own leadership style was important to realize my own weaknesses.


I’m at risk of dismissing others' ideas too harshly and not considering others opinions, even if I don’t mean to be rude.


Being in the classroom setting also brought another point to my attention, it’s not only what you know, it’s who you know. Having contacts around the Air Force is essential to my growth as an NCO.


I won’t know all the answers and I probably never will, but if I know who to reach out to if I need to find an answer, I can get the mission done. This is essential not only for one’s job or additional duty but for mentorship.


If I need guidance from a more experienced NCO or SNCO about discipline or corrections that need to be made, knowing who’s gone through a situation like this before can help set me on the right path.


Having connections with your peers is also important, not only does it give you contacts to reach out to for questions, but it also gives you people to bounce ideas off.


A public affairs Airman won’t have the same point of view as someone in the medical field or security forces. Bouncing ideas off of them could help mold ideas into a workable plan.


All of these reasons while important, weren’t the biggest takeaway from ALS for me.


My biggest takeaway is to not be afraid to ask for help.


Similar to knowing the right people, knowing when to ask for help is a large part of growing as a leader, you can’t do everything alone, knowing when to delegate, when you’re over your head and being able to put aside your pride to ask for assistance will show that you’re not only focused on the mission but also show the maturity that’s needed for a leader.


Asking for help can also be a learning opportunity.


Getting the correct information allows me to build better processes in the future, assimilating the information that may take trial and error to get normally.


Being willing to learn from the mistakes of others is something that I learned I need to do, rather than being willing to learn from only my own.


The transition from Airman to NCO is a daunting one, the increased pressure, responsibility and training make sure of that. However, with the training taught to me and the experiences surrounding me, I hope to bestow the best of the training I’ve received as an Airman to the Airmen I will now lead.