Developing Resilient Leaders

  • Published
  • By Lt. Gen. Richard Scobee

We will identify, develop and retain leaders who combine emotional intellect with the innate characteristics required to win in future operating environments. These leaders must be able to operate independently, build trust in their units, and create an environment that enables Airmen to take smart risks and generate combat power.

- AFRC Vision, Mission and Priorities

Heroes of the Air Force Reserve:

As a command team, one of our strategic priorities is to focus on how we develop resilient leaders. We recognize the importance of leaders who have a high degree of emotional intelligence at all levels, as technical competence alone will not guarantee our future success. Emotionally intelligent leaders are highly motivated and inspire those around them to overcome adversity. They have a high degree of self-awareness, recognizing their own limitations and blind spots. They are guided by empathy, aware of how their interactions affect those around them. Finally, they have the social skills necessary to build resilient teams based on mutual trust. Each of these components of emotional intelligence is essential to leading in the Air Force Reserve.

The Chief of Staff of the Air Force highlighted key characteristics of future operating environments in Accelerate Change or Lose. The forces shaping our future include declining resources and aggressive global competitors, along with rapid technology development and diffusion. Given that any one of these elements can drive uncertainty, it is essential that we continue to identify, train and educate leaders who can adapt to, navigate through and thrive in volatile environments. 

We have already seen the value of leaders who are able to operate independently. The COVID-19 pandemic clearly demonstrated how local leadership can integrate threat information in a rapidly evolving situation, partner with state and local agencies, and develop tailored guidance to balance the need to protect the health of Reserve Citizen Airmen and their families while meeting mission readiness requirements. In future environments with potentially contested communications, the ability to assess complex situations, collaborate locally and continue to execute the mission will be invaluable. 

When reflecting on the lessons learned over the course of his 100 years of life, former Secretary of State George Shultz once wrote “Trust is fundamental, reciprocal and pervasive. If present, anything is possible. If it is absent, nothing is possible.” 

Trust is the glue that holds together everything we do.  Our nation trusts us to deliver winning capabilities whenever and wherever they are needed. We trust our leaders to set the conditions for success in our organization to the best of their abilities. We trust our fellow Reserve Citizen Airmen to execute the mission. 

Each of those elements of trust: between the nation and our organization, between our people and their leaders, and between each other, can be undermined by the presence of extremism in our organization. The Department of Defense’s ongoing Extremism Stand Down is the first step to addressing extremism within the ranks. Throughout this ongoing process, resilient leaders will be crucial to strengthening teams by enhancing trust.

Innovation cannot exist without trust. Leaders at all levels must vet (not veto) ideas to continually improve our organization. Mutual trust creates an environment in which we can have candid discussions about how to better perform the mission. Trust breeds empowerment. Empowerment with good judgment allows leaders at each level to take smart risks to test new ideas. Given the rapid pace of technological evolution, game changing innovations are likely to come from our most junior personnel who have the deepest experience with new technology. Resilient leaders are aware of this inherent strength in their teams and have the humility to accept that they may not always have the best solution. 

Recently, during a meeting with several Air Force Reserve senior leaders, I had the opportunity to listen to several junior Reserve Airmen brief their ideas on developing resilient leaders. They presented bold new ideas for changing how we better identify and develop resilient leaders within our organization. Change often comes from the bottom up. As a command team, we embraced many of their ideas. 

The command chief and I are proud to serve with each of you and look forward to the future that resilient leaders bring to every corner of the Air Force Reserve.