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Leadership is a Contact Sport

By Major Jody Kaiser 307th Logistics Readiness Squadron

A few years ago I attended Combat Skills Training at Fort Bliss, Texas in preparation for a deployment to Camp Eggers, Afghanistan. We were a group that consisted of young Airmen with a couple of years of service to colonels nearing retirement and looking for one last "hoo-rah."

While some of the instructors at CST had "been there and done that," some had not, and even those new to Army training could easily tell the difference between the two.

One afternoon, one of those instructors pulled our Colonel aside and told him that one of our Airmen had a helmet that would make him stick out in Afghanistan because it was a different color and would make him a sniper target. At the time it made a great deal of sense.

However, my first day at Camp Eggers made me feel like I was on a movie set. I noticed that Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, Sailors, civilian contractors, and NATO troops all had their own uniforms, body armor, weapons, etc.

While the well-meaning combat skill instructor did the best he could based on what he knew, there's nothing like firsthand experience.

That lesson can be applied to leadership as well. If you want to be an effective leader, you must go to where the mission is happening and get firsthand knowledge of what Airmen are doing and who they are.

You can frame this as "Engaged Leadership". Engaged leadership can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. For me, it means getting an idea of who your Airmen are and how they do their jobs. It means getting out of the office and seeing with your own eyes, hearing with your own ears, putting your boots on the ground wherever and whenever the mission is being done. Leaders have the ability to delegate responsibility. However, it's impossible for leaders to delegate involvement.

Similar to being able to pick out the instructor who hasn't "been there and done that", it's somewhat easy to pick out the leader who isn't experiencing firsthand what is going on - who hasn't been out seeing with their own eyes or getting to know their Airmen, because engaged leaders set the tone for the desired values and principles of the unit. There's only so much information you can get through a computer screen. Unlike the trainer who simply didn't have the opportunity to get firsthand experience, a leader in my opinion, has no good excuse.

Engaged leadership should be a contact sport.