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Use ‘buy-in,’ common goals as leadership tools

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Kingston Lampley
  • 99th Refueling Squadron commander
Whether you know and understand what Total Force Integration really is, in a military environment it is indispensable.

I am an active-duty commander under the operational direction of an Air National Guard wing. My parent wing, the 6th Air Mobility Wing, MacDill Air Force Base, exercises administrative control over my unit and is eight hours away. My support wing, which is a little more than an hour away, is in a different major command.

My host wing owns the aircraft and commands the majority of personnel. I exercise direct administrative and operational control over my active-duty Airmen, yet share operational direction over many of the Guardsmen. Much of the National Guard leadership has dominion over my Airmen. To effectively lead in this environment requires a diverse set of interpersonal skills. Two leadership tools which have limited effects and should be avoided are coercion and manipulation. A more effective approach is goal-focused team building.

President Dwight Eisenhower described leadership as the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it. Leading by coercion works, but is not a preferred method, as its effects are temporary and often achieved by employing guilt, fear, sarcasm and ridicule. Reliance on this tool creates a toxic environment and requires the leader's constant presence to micromanage people into submission.

Another poor option is manipulation; it only works in certain situations. It requires the leader to exhibit power over the person or agency by strong-arming. Often when it comes to leadership, the "Chuck Norris approach" will get you absolutely nowhere. For example, in my position I can't jump up and down on desks at the finance office and demand better service, as the office is not in my major command. Additionally, my Airmen could take the brunt of any ill will I might create.

The bottom line is compliance gained through coercion and manipulation is temporary and comes at a great cost to the welfare of the organization. Gaining buy-in is preferred and more lasting. I have found goal-focused team building is an excellent tool toward this end.

My favorite technique, which has been forged in the TFI environment, is to focus the person or agency I am influencing on the greater good. Focus on commonalities and the need to work together to accomplish common goals. Being military, sometimes the final answer is, "because I said so." But if the situation allows the time, don't stop there. Explain why it's important to do a task a certain way. It is important to remember that we aim to grow Airmen leaders, not compliant automatons.

I encourage you to seek buy-in over compliance, though it may take more effort and a little humility. Although time constraints are tight, do your best to spend a little time amongst the troops. Put down the phone or computer mouse for a little while. Airmen have insight on how to operate more efficiently. Do these things and you may be able to get people to do things because they want to do them, rather than because they are afraid of punishment.