Hindered by Experience, Captivated by Confidence

PATRICK AFB, Fla. -- Squadron Commanders know how to get things done. We can lead Airmen to complete a mission, drive operations, control budgets, negotiate deals, keep on schedule, investigate problems, find solutions, brief a 4-star ... make good coffee.

Years of experience says there is a right way and a wrong way to do everything in the Air Force. I even know the right way to go about doing things I've never done before. I'm confident I can take on any challenge and get to the right answer. Only problem is that it's a façade, and I know it.

While attending Squadron Officers School over a decade ago, I sat through dozens of lectures, and read thousands of pages. My flight was a great team. We won every competition, overcame every challenge, and aced every exam. In fact we were "Right of Line" - the best flight in the school. But one hard lesson stuck with me.

Often, other flight members had a better plan, saw the pattern first, or gleaned a deeper insight than I. Often our victory hinged on the approaches advocated by others, whereas my favored tactic would have made us the runner up. Lesson learned: more of me is not necessarily a good thing.

A commander determines what must be done, but if I spend time dictating details then we'll end up in second place. The rocket business is a team sport that requires players who understand complex interactions with technical systems and personnel.

We thrive with critical thinkers who possess imagination to see novel solutions and initiative to take action.

Judgment is king. Knowing we share the same values and mission goals, I can trust a good officer or NCO will make "right" decisions. Sometimes the results are superior
to my approach, sometimes equivalent, and occasionally they are really ugly. But the benefit far outweighs the risk.

The squadron commander does not do the mission. Squadron members do. If we want the best results, reason dictates they must be free to bring the best ideas to the table. A group of squadron commander clones cannot match a diverse team of real players.