INSPIRE your Airmen

  • Published
  • By Col. William H. Kale III

Today’s Airmen crave inspiring leadership – they want to be a valued member of the world’s best Air Force, know their contributions make a difference, and follow someone who will make them better.  When these Airmen joined the Air Force they envisioned their leaders would be charismatic, passionate and successful – they believed their leaders would inspire them to do more than they ever expected.  Some Air Force leaders have a natural ability to inspire their Airmen but most do not.  Fortunately, this ability can be learned or improved with some effort.  Here are some techniques you can use as an Air Force leader to INSPIRE your Airmen:  

Include your Airmen in the decision-making process to help them take ownership for what they do.  Take the time to listen to their suggestions and provide them feedback if they do not initially grasp the task at hand.  Our Airmen are very capable and they want to help solve problems.  Most of the time they will get the job done just as you would have, but sometimes they will surprise you by coming up with a different or better solution.  Also, your Airmen will fail every now and then – do not beat them up – use this as a learning opportunity and it will help them become better Airmen if they are accountable for fixing their mistakes.  Initially, this process may be a little frustrating and seem inefficient.  In the long run your team will become more effective and your Airmen will feel more a part of your team.  More importantly, you are developing the next generation of leaders.          

Nurture your Airmen so they know you are concerned about them and their future.  Take the time to go through the Airman Comprehensive Assessment with each of your Airmen – do not just check the boxes but actually have a conversation with them.  Plan to spend at least one hour at the beginning of the rating period and at the midterm to explain your expectations and learn more about them – you should know about their family / living situation and understand their goals, desires, challenges, and frustrations.  When you provide criticism, make sure you are constructive and develop a realistic corrective action plan with them to help your Airmen succeed.  Also, share experiences about your growth and show how you are continually trying to improve your performance.        

Serve your Airmen so they know your primary purposes are to accomplish the mission and take care of them.  Leadership is not a 9 to 5 job – you set the example by working longer hours than your Airmen and showing up for weekends and holidays whenever necessary.  You know about their personal or family situations and ensure they get the help they need.  You are always available for your Airmen in both good and bad situations.  Your Airmen should know you would never give them a task that you have not already done or would not do yourself.  Your Airmen need to see you sacrifice as much or more as they are for the Air Force.   

Protect your Airmen by providing a professional work environment and encouraging healthy life choices.  Your Airmen need to feel safe in their work environment or they will not perform to their fullest potential.  The work environment should be a source of pride and free of any harassment.  They need to feel comfortable working with their peers or coming to their leaders when something is not going well.  Our Airmen also need to see their leaders making healthy life choices so they will follow their example.  They should see leaders at the gym or running around the base.  They should not see leaders out late at night in bars or disco clubs.  Their leaders should set the example by taking leave, going on vacations, and spending time with family to relax.           

Inform your Airmen about new policies and base activities.  Your Airmen want to know what is going on and it is a bad assumption if you think they get all this information via e-mail or other means.  Take the time to explain new policies such as enlisted force distribution or blended retirement system – give them your perspective or help them find experts so they can make informed decisions.  Also, pass along information on base activities such as First Friday, promotion ceremonies, cultural events, professional development opportunities, and Single Airmen Program / Outdoor Recreation trips.  Sharing this information is especially critical for teams with very high ops tempo to help your Airmen save some time and maintain their work/life balance.          

Recognize your Airmen when they do a good job and thank them often.  Your Airmen need to know you appreciate what they do for you.  Find creative ways to accomplish this by having higher levels of your chain of command visit with them, giving them some extra time off, or celebrating as a team with a fun event (e.g., picnic, bowling, club, etc.).  Make sure you publically recognize Airmen by name when a mission goes well and personally take any blame if something does not go well.  Your Airmen do not get paid much for what they do.  They are serving for a higher purpose so military comradery is a huge reason why most will continue to serve.     

Empower your Airmen to the best of their ability.  Most Airmen do not want their leaders telling them what to do all the time.  Give them a mission they are trained to do and get out of their way.  Hold them accountable – make sure they properly coordinate with other organizations and inform the chain of their status.  Empowerment is what makes our Air Force the world’s best – we get more productivity out of each of Airmen so we are able to overwhelm our enemies.        

Becoming an Air Force leader who inspires Airmen is possible.  For most of us it requires a concentrated effort and some practice.  Using these INSPIRE (Include, Nurture, Support, Protect, Inform, Recognize, and Empower) techniques will help.  I challenge Air Force leaders to take some time to reflect and see if your leadership style includes these techniques.  I guarantee if you Include, Nurture, Support, Protect, Inform, Recognize, and Empower your Airmen then you will be well on your way to becoming an Air Force leader who can INSPIRE Airmen.