Leadership is a Verb! It's time to lead!

  • Published
  • By Craig Ritza
  • Air Force Network Integration Center
Leadership and management are not mutually exclusive. They coexist on a continuum where some circumstances scream "leadership" while others holler "task management." The need for leadership is the louder cry of the two because according to Fiscal 2013 Budget Proposal, this year the Department of Defense will begin reducing the defense budget by $487B over the next ten years. How you respond to these challenges will determine if you are truly leading or simply task managing.

In the military world, established guidance, instructions, manuals, and policies define most processes or operations. DOD's defined construct absolutely ensures our national security. What it doesn't do is remove one's ability to create solutions.

Leaders innovate. The word "innovate" for some reason seems to imply something grand, something never heard of before. More simply, innovation is the introduction of something new to something already established.

For instance, is telework an innovation? It certainly brings a greater efficiency by expanding upon the existing infrastructure and increasing the federal government's operational capability in circumstances that otherwise would cause a shutdown, such as extreme weather. In some cases, it has the potential of more efficient utilization of costly floor space. So the answer is yes, telework shifts the paradigm making the computer mobile so regardless of location it can connect to the network, allowing employees to happily continue working. Innovation is about ideas that have small shifts that in the end lead to large improvement in the ways of doing business.

Leaders not only innovate, they motivate. This is not a time of "less," it's an opportunity to do things differently, more efficiently. Our most valuable asset, people, has significantly been reduced, affecting moral and motivation levels. The Airman leader must rise to the occasion, successfully motivating people to go beyond their comfort zone and excel in a time of great anxiety.

A focus on task management won't do it. The leader needs the best of the best to nurture the technical skills, maximize talent, and inspire results. When development, education and position opportunities present themselves, the norm has been to advertise the program and await applications. I have often said and believe, "This approach will reap the best of the willing, not the best of the best!" As leaders it is incumbent upon us to recognize the performance in front of us and take it to the next level.

At one point in my career there was a young student working for me. She was working full time and attending a course here, another there; not really focused. I asked her, "When are you going to be finished with your degree?" Her response was something to the effect, "I think next year, early spring." For me it wasn't very definitive and it certainly wasn't a plan targeted for success. How could I shift her motivation level from "I'm going to school" to "I am going to finish in May!" Aware that the Palace Acquire Intern program allowed for some non-competitive permanent placements, I had the motivation.

Together we established a targeted completion date and coursework plan. I actively inquired on her progress, asked about her grades, and most of all ensured that she remembered the reward waiting for the commitment!

Today I am proud to say she is a career federal civilian continuing to improve by pursuing her master's degree. She has a very promising path ahead of her!

Now imagine if each of us in a leadership position identified one person and expanded upon their already-proven motivation. What kind of dynamic person would that put in today's workforce? It's a leadership responsibility to bring the best of the best forward! Let's replace, "the best of the willing" with the "best of the best!"

Leaders not only innovate and motivate, they anticipate. A leader realizes the challenges and prepares to forge ahead. Every commander, director, manager, and supervisor today faces shrinking resources in every conceivable manner. Effective leaders envision the desired end state. This is where the true sense of shifting from task management to leadership will occur.

Today's transformation in several functional areas has already led to an anticipated need for change. Specifically, Force Management faces an increase in standardized position descriptions, Information Technology is incorporating Cloud Architecture, and the Medical Community is establishing an interface to manage an electronic file system. These Air Force synergies are collaborative efforts with other federal agencies and are just some of the many endeavors where leadership is anticipating the impact of reduced resources, yet focusing on ensuring a functioning end state of mission success.

Leaders not only innovate, motivate and anticipate, they must communicate. Communication is the stanchion of leadership success. It's maximizing the multitude of mediums by which to communicate. At one time it was simple: determine how to get the message out. Today's social media sites, blogs, Internet, email, texting, and recordable television redefine communication into strategic communication. I believe that communications has shifted from "Get the message to the people" to "Where are people getting the message?"

Using myself as an example, I begin my day by reviewing information I deem necessary from my smart phone. Within a very short period of time, I will have read the weather, stock market opening, news headlines, email, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn before ever leaving the house.

As the author of this article, I acknowledge its potential to permeate across all available mediums through reader distribution. Therefore, a leader's message must be consistent so that when it crosses all mediums, people will receive and understand the same message. It's about delivering the words, the message, and the vision such that it is understood by the only thing that you can lead -- people.

More-so than ever, active leadership is the only option. Go out and be an innovator, motivator, anticipator and communicator. Be a Leader!

Ritza is the chief of manpower, personnel and training for the Air Force Network Integration Center and has served in various leadership roles for more than for 17 years, mentoring both civilian and military personnel.