When the going gets tough
By Maj. Edward Liberman, 17th Civil Engineering Squadron Commander
/ Published March 31, 2011
GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas-- --
Let's face it, we live in a fast-paced, rat-race world. Life in the Air Force is no different. When our mission feels the effects of the hectic pace, we brand it "high ops tempo." It's characterized by increased demands and insufficient resources to accomplish all requirements. It exerts a toll--leaving our people stressed and an organization stretched thin. As Airmen, we'll go through periods of high ops tempo, and therefore need to be ready to effectively lead at those key times. Here are a few thoughts on how to lead your work section through those hectic times when the going gets tough:
Although we'd often like to accomplish everything, there's a point where we need to decide what's going to get done first and where we are going to accept risk. Not everything can be #1, but there needs to be a first priority. It provides focus, a goal for your unit to strive for. When prioritizing, be sure to understand the difference between important and immediate requirements. It's easy to get caught up in the immediate things, and lose track of those that are truly important. Keep the important in the forefront; they're the tasks that mean the most to your unit's long-term success.
A key to bridging your boss's expectations with your unit's execution is effective communication. When you lack clear guidance, ask questions. When you have expectations, express them and provide feedback. When you lack the funds, manpower or equipment needed to fulfill a task, communicate the shortfall. Frequent and effective communication provides the information and perspective needed to rise above your circumstances. That perspective leads to clarity and situational awareness--which can keep your unit in-sync and on-track during the tough times.
Your unit needs positive, caring leaders who can relate to the struggles that employees go through. Don't squander the ability to empathize. Get involved, get to know your employees, and take care of them. Provide them top cover and understand when they are operating at their limit. Most of all, let them know you appreciate them and back up your words with actions. A positive, caring attitude can go a long way toward pulling your team through the high ops tempo.
Keep your balance
Stress and fatigue can take a toll on you, effectively throwing your life out of balance. Make a conscious effort to keep life aspects in balance: work, family, physical, mental, recreation and spiritual. It sounds easy, but can be quite difficult in the heat of the moment. There will be times when a short-term imbalance is necessary to get through an important project or life event; however, over the long term that same imbalance can erode your effectiveness as a leader. Your unit needs you in balance, successfully leading and setting the example for others.
These ideas aren't a cure-all, rather they offer points to ponder...an opportunity to reflect on how you would lead when the pressure is on. Leadership is a demanding endeavor, and leading in today's high-ops tempo Air Force poses unique challenges. Are you up to the challenge? How will you lead when the going gets tough?