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Leadership at Every Level

  • Published
  • By Col. Christopher Coffelt
  • 90th Missile Wing commander
All of you have certainly heard me emphasize and discuss the importance of leadership and how leadership at every level of the organization is absolutely critical to our success. How successful do you think an organization would be if the leader was the most intelligent, charismatic and experienced leader you could find, but the lowest echelons of the organization failed to execute? Or how about an organization that posted off-the-charts performance at the tactical level, but had no strategic leadership for direction and no sense of purpose? It is clear in both of these examples that these organizations would not succeed in the long run. In my humble opinion, one of the 90th Missile Wing's greatest attributes and the foundation for our long list of awards and success is that we have a culture and tradition of excellence where every Airman has a sense of mission ownership -- this provides leadership at every level of the wing. All the individual leadership excellence in the wing accumulates and manifests itself as organizational excellence and, in this sense, the Mighty Ninety definitely leads the way. There are many stories I could tell you to illustrate what I am talking about, but today I am going to relay one example that really made an impression on me.

In July of this year, I went over to the First Term Airman Center to talk with our newest teammates. It was a typical class. My fellow Airmen were much younger than me, had a lot more hair, and it was exciting to hear their fresh perspectives on the Air Force I've known for over two decades. We talked about our critical mission, what it means to be a good wingman, what nuclear deterrence means, how important it is that each and every one of us do our job properly to ensure mission success and that no one Airman is any more or less important than any other (even the Wing Commander isn't more important than any other Airman...we all just have different roles) and how it truly takes us ALL to get this job done right every day. What was NOT typical was what happened near the end of our discussion. As I began to wrap up our time and take final questions, an Airman in the front row seemed very uncomfortable. It appeared that he wanted to ask a question but possibly couldn't find the words or was still a bit hesitant to engage with me. I thought I would try to help him out and asked him directly if he wanted to ask a question. His reply caught me off guard. He said "No sir, but could I please see you outside after the briefing?" Without hesitation I accepted, but I must admit that my mind was racing with what he might possibly need to tell me privately. I'm pretty sure if his new supervisor had been in the room, he/she would be having a heart attack about now, but we walked out of the room together to a private office, and I asked him what I could do for him and what was on his mind. He still seemed very uncomfortable but compelled and eager to get something off his chest. When the words finally came, he said "Sir, I don't know if you realized it or not, but you have a 'cable' on your uniform." He pointed to a single four millimeter long thread protruding from the top left pocket of my ABU blouse just below the U.S. Air Force tape. There was a pair of scissors on the desk next to us, so I picked them up, handed them to him and asked him to please do the honors. He obliged and I was once again in top compliance with our uniform standards.

Some of you may be wondering why this made such an impression on me. Well, here's why. In that simple, single act, Airman First Class Monte Smith (from our awesome 790th Missile Security Forces Squadron -- huah!) demonstrated a host of superior leadership attributes that I long to see in my teammates and fellow Airmen. A1C Smith demonstrated courageous leadership, strict compliance with our rules/instructions/orders, dynamic followership, great respect for his fellow Airmen and first-class teamwork. He knew the requirements, and he wanted to make sure that he was a good teammate and wingman by helping a fellow Airman also meet the requirements of the job. He took ACTION to correct the problem instead of "admiring the problem" or walking past the deficiency--an essential quality of great leaders. He exhibited great courage--the ability to respectfully speak truth to power is also an essential leadership quality, but can carry great personal risk. In spite of the risk, he took action to do the right thing, but also did it in such a way as to not embarrass me in front of others, thereby showing great personal respect due a fellow Airman and preserving the authority and reputation of a senior officer/commander -- actions commensurate with the highest customs and tradition of the United States Air Force.

This is the kind of leadership that is the foundation of the Mighty Ninety's organizational excellence, key to our daily mission success and exactly what we need at every level to continue living up to our reputation as the flagship ICBM wing. It is the type of leadership that delivered an "Excellent" wing rating on the first-ever ICBM Consolidated Unit Inspection; blew the IG away during our recent Limited Nuclear Surety Inspection; has wowed countless visitors/DVs/General Officers/elected officials as we have showcased the ICBM mission; ensured a flawless Simulated Electronic Launch Minuteman (SELM) that proved our maintenance, security, operations and support is truly world-class and keeps our rockets ready to go at a moment's notice; earned the Omaha Trophy from General Kehler for the "best ICBM wing" in USSTRATCOM; and will deliver the first-ever THREE-PEAT Blanchard Trophy Win at Global Strike Challenge next week! Thanks for all you do and thanks for the leadership at every echelon of our great wing which makes possible this long list of achievements and the unmatched combat capability we are able to provide our President every day.