Years ago (decades ago?) I was a cadet, cadet officer, and later adult officer in the Civil Air Patrol, the US Air Force Auxillary. While my responsibilities have pushed out the CAP, I still belong to an affiliated site, CadetStuff.org, where I used to write a column titled “Leading The Way.”
After a brief discussion on the forum, I’m considering publishing a new article on leadership. Just for grins, I thought I would post it here. It’s not your usual Creative Chaos Fare, but I thought you might enjoy it. If you’d like to see more, or less, of this type of material, please let me know through comments!
Picture it, Fort George G. Meade – June, 1995. Maryland Summer Encampment Staff Selection and Training. The “top three” command staff was already selected. The rest of the potential staff – 20 or more cadets ranked cadet major to staff sergeant – were vying for the great prize of leading basic cadets in training.
It was a great, glorious day, which I remember like yesterday. I pulled up in the late 1980’s-era blue station wagon on Friday afternoon, sauntered over to the sign-in table, said hello the cadet deputy commander and XO, and signed in.
Heusser was here and his goal was clear – to command a squadron. Ah, squadron command. So glorious that to this day I still wax poetic about it. The opportunity to do real indirect leadership but still have someone concrete to compare yourself to – the other guy, the other squadron commander, the enemy.
Ok, maybe “the enemy” was a bit much, but you get the point.
So I signed in. Friday night we didn’t do much; people would trickle in all night and the official training schedule started Saturday. We mostly sat around, told “war stories”, re-introduced each other, and studied memory work. Most of the troops had just graduated in 1994 and didn’t know what to expect; I’d skipped 1994, commanded a flight in ’93, and was one of the old hands – one of two cadet majors applying to be on staff.
Saturday morning we work up, put on our battle dress, and waited. Not too long later (0700? 0630? I’m not sure), the command staff walked in.
Something was wrong. They weren’t looking at us like staff candidates – we were cadet basics all over again – or something. I couldn’t put my finger on it.
“Why aren’t you formed up?” asked the cadet commander, with an edge in her voice. Oh, it wasn’t mean – I don’t mean to imply that we were “hazed” or anything silly like that. She was upset.
Thinking to myself, I wondered why she thought we should be formed up, and where. I kept this to myself – as they say, it’s better to be thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt. Besides, I was sure she would tell us.
Sure enough, she did. The training schedule, with times and locations, was listed on the sign-in table. We hadn’t noticed. We were starting this whole thing off on the wrong foot.
Now time can do some interesting things. In some ways, we forget, but in others, things that were confusing can become more clear as we have time to reflect.
Now, if Cadet Staff Sergeant Snuffy knew about the schedule and told me, I’d have been remiss, but I’d also have marched the troops to the assembly area. The reality was, no one – not one – of the 20+ candidates had noticed the training schedule.
It wasn’t solely a problem with our attention to detail.
It was /also/ availability of information and communications. As much as it was a problem with the troops, It was also a command problem.
Of course, I didn’t say anything at the time. I knew my goal – to command a squadron – and that bringing up a complaint about the behavior of senior leadership was not the best way to get that command.
In hindsight, I wish I had said something privately, but in the grand scheme of things, I had more than a few behavior problems myself at that age.
However, that Saturday was memorable to me for more than one reason. Because that afternoon we were having a discussion about how to run encampment. And, yes, the “tear ’em down, build ’em back up” school of thought was dominant, along with the “fail them on the first few inspections to make a point” school, and yes, the idea of fear and intimidation as the way to change behavior.
And, cliche as it was, I stood up against the crowd and said something very much like this: “I think there are other ways to lead cadets. After, all when we command cadets, shouldn’t our goal be to inspire cheerful and willing obedience to orders?”
That one sentence changed the tone of the entire conversation.
Now I’m not perfect, and I don’t claim to have done everything right that weekend, and at the encampment that followed, where yes, I did command a squadron.
And when I reflect on all the mistakes I have made over the years, In my mind’s eye, I still see that weekend as bright and shining. Because on two occasions, I saw that leadership had the opportunity to blame and abuse others, or inspire them, and I saw and preferred the better.
When you lead cadets at meetings, and activities, and at summer encampment – what is your goal?
What are you inspiring today?
And what do you want to inspire tomorrow?