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Boundary Spanning Leadership

  • Published
  • By Col. James Hodges
  • 6th Mission Support Group commander
A topic that has recently garnered a lot of attention in leadership development literature is the concept of "boundary spanning leadership." In the progression from developing individual and team skills to developing capabilities for leading large organizations, boundaries between individuals, teams, and organizations are major challenges that can impede success.

These boundaries require leadership and teamwork to span the gaps. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight two recent examples on MacDill AFB that exemplify boundary spanning abilities. The examples include the recent runway repair and the return of over $500 million gold and silver treasure to the Spanish government. These situations required great leadership and teamwork to span boundaries in order to accomplish difficult yet meaningful missions.

The MacDill AFB runway recently closed for repairs and then reopened two weeks ahead of schedule. Something as complex as closing the airfield, completing the required repairs, dispersing aircraft, deploying aircrews and support personnel, and diverting our mission partners' distinguished visitor air traffic required one of the most difficult boundary spanning leadership challenges I've seen in my career. Fortunately, Team MacDill stepped up. Planning for this complex project started in earnest about six months ago and included all of the 6th Air Mobility Wing's groups and staff agencies, our base mission partners, 18th Air Force, Air Mobility Command, Tampa International Airport, and the other bases to which we deployed our aircraft during the closure. The project team, leaders and followers alike, proactively mobilized shared goals and resources to weave together a plan that would meet the needs of the various stakeholders. The end product was a series of integrated and synchronized actions that set a new standard for Air Mobility Command runway repairs and airfield closures. It helped that we had the great fortune of sunny weather and a very good contractor, but our boundary spanning team also did their very best to make their own good luck!

Those of you that watched the Tampa Bay area news late last week might have seen that the Spanish government won a court settlement for the return of a treasure worth over $500 million in gold and silver that had been previously recovered by a U.S. company and stored in the local area. Team MacDill was quickly enlisted to help facilitate the return of the Spanish treasure using our airfield, logistical capabilities, flight line facilities, and security on very short notice. This situation provided another great opportunity for Team MacDill to showcase its boundary spanning abilities. Consider the challenges: a foreign government needed to accept and transport its treasure worth over $500 million; this effort had high-level international political and media interest; there were potential language barriers; it had to be planned with a high level of secrecy and discretion; there was less than a week to plan and execute the mission; and many details frequently changed. The bottom line for this situation was the team overcame the international concerns, communication barriers, the need for secrecy, the short timeline, and worked flexibly in order to adjust to the many changes. The exemplary teamwork and the initiative of the project's team members bridged any potential gaps and ensured the Spanish aircraft took off with the treasure under the watchful eyes of leaders from the Spanish delegation and Team MacDill.

Through these examples we can see how positive leadership and teamwork can help bridge gaps and span boundaries to accomplish important missions. This boundary spanning skill set will become even more important in the current world environment where complex challenges and constrained resources demand that individuals, teams, and organizations work collaboratively and in an integrated manner. The near future holds such challenges in store for us all as the United States and the Department of Defense face continued mission demands while the budget is simultaneously being reduced.

At MacDill Air Force Base, we face a series of tough inspections and mission demands over the next year. If we all strive to span the boundaries between our various organizations and work closely together, we can all bring our capabilities to bear and accomplish the tasks at hand as a world-class team. We've shown we can do it before. I am confident we will continue to do it again and again.

Now, let's go show that MacDill is the home of the "Finest Air Mobility Wing on the Face of the Planet!"