Frederick the Great's Leadership Lessons Still Applicable 300 Years Later

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Scott Nahrgang and Senior Airman Brandon Stone
  • 316th Training Squadron
Frederick II was born in Berlin in 1712, son of King Frederick William I. As a boy he was drawn to arts and sciences rather than war and politics, but after ascending to his father's throne he demonstrated a brilliant military mind while uniting scattered territories to build Prussia into a formidable European power. He came to be called "Frederick the Great," as well as "King of Prussia" rather than merely a King in Prussia as his father had been. At the time of his death in 1786, Frederick the Great's territories spanned much of northern, central, and eastern Europe and he is still considered one of the greatest military tacticians to ever live.

In addition to his military prowess, Frederick the Great was a statesman known for encouraging modernization. He oversaw improvements in infrastructure and famously promoted diversity and tolerance among his people. Frederick the Great built canals and irrigation systems as well as cathedrals, libraries and palaces, many of which still stand today, particularly in Berlin. He maintained a lifelong love of the arts and was an accomplished musician and composer. Frederick the Great was also a champion of education and believed it to be vital to the betterment of his people and his state.

Without continuous innovation and improvement to its infrastructure, an organization risks losing its station or falling behind its competitors. The 316th Training Squadron recently completed a $1.4 million infrastructure upgrade which will allow the squadron to train Airmen, Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Coast Guardsmen as we fight. This project brought state-of-the-art technology to 48 classrooms, which now boast high-speed access to live intelligence databases manipulated by program-of-record software. This exposure to current tactics, techniques and procedures reduces on-the-job training time and better prepares the squadron's graduates to immediately assume duties in the operational Air Force.

Frederick the Great encouraged tolerance in society and was determined to bring the most talented people in the world to his lands. He wanted the best teachers, builders, bankers and merchants regardless of race or religion. Today our Air Force promotes this same non-discrimination policy so as to attract the best our nation has to offer, regardless of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation. In today's fiscally-constrained environment, our true riches are the unique experiences and viewpoints offered by our diverse Airmen.

In addition to his martial prowess, Frederick the Great played the flute, wrote sonatas and symphonies and studied philosophy. Commanders expect more than ever from their Airmen and today's operations tempo, particularly in the intelligence career field which has long experienced 179-day deployments at a 1:1 dwell rate, inflicts a great deal of stress on our Airmen. It is not uncommon to see Airmen tasked with duties that previously would have been accomplished by more seasoned NCOs.

Finding a way to strike a balance between work and relaxation is critical to maintaining a pace that often feels like a sprint for the duration of a marathon. We can learn much from Frederick the Great's example. We all need to find an effective method to deal with stress: take the time to enjoy a hobby, learn a new skill or just relax with family and friends. Achieving the proper work-life balance will go a long way toward ensuring your family is still around when the time comes to hang up your Air Force uniform.

Frederick the Great considered education to be paramount. He spoke several languages and was instrumental in the Prussian Academy of Sciences' rise to prominence. Education is vital in today's Air Force as well. Over 65 percent of enlisted Airmen have some college and 7 percent have a bachelors degree or higher. The education level of our senior NCO tier (21 percent have a bachelors degree and almost 6 percent have a masters degree) is the envy of military services around the world.
Education only becomes more critical as fiscal and end strength reductions place more responsibility in the hands of all Airmen. Our Airmen do a great job taking full advantage of myriad available educational and self-improvement opportunities. This emphasis on self-improvement ensures that we are all better prepared for whatever challenges the Air Force of the future holds.

Lt. Col. Scott Nahrgang, a career intelligence officer, is commander of the 316th TRS. Senior Airman Brandon Stone, a graduate of San Jose State University and the Defense Language Institute, recently completed cryptologic training in the 316th TRS and is currently awaiting permanent assignment.