Leadership styles -who influenced you?

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo., -- I was recently interviewed by one of my non-commissioned officers working on a project about leadership in industry for a class he was taking. He was doing a comparison of leadership in industry and leadership in the Air Force. One of the questions he asked was if I had a particular leadership style ... I gave the ever popular response, "it depends." He then asked if there was a particular leader or supervisor that made an influence on me ... and my response was of course, "all of them." Like everyone, I've had both good and bad supervisors. All of them molded or influenced me in some way and all have set an example for me, some good and some bad. It is just as important to know how NOT to be as it is TO know how to be.

Although that is true, there is one supervisor that does stand out. He set good examples I still follow today ... so I'd like tell his story. I'll call him Sergeant Bob.

Sergeant Bob was my first shift supervisor, and he drove the expediter truck for the electronic countermeasures shop on mid-shift. We were electronic warfare technicians maintaining the receivers and jamming transmitters on a "double wing" of B-52s. There were a lot of them, lots of receivers and jammers and lots of B-52s. That meant lots of things could "break" and they did. Sergeant Bob said that meant job security.

We had just reorganized the maintenance complex and were undermanned. Sound familiar? Strategic Air Command had just implemented readiness-oriented logistics system. This was a decentralized maintenance concept. Specialists from the "back shop" squadrons moved to organizational maintenance squadrons, the flight line, with the intention to improve aircraft generation.

Sergeant Bob got things done because he knew how to get things done. He had the list of open discrepancies and balanced it against his available technicians. We usually had four maintenance teams each shift. He prioritized the "write-ups" and matched them to maintenance teams based on our knowledge, experience and expertise. Then he dispatched us on the flight line, dropping a crew off at each jet. Most jets landed with two or three ECM write-ups, some had four or five, but occasionally there were even more. We were to op check each write-up to troubleshoot and repair as necessary.

Sergeant Bob would come back to check on us 20 minutes later ... always. You'd hear the horn honking, which meant someone had to run downstairs to give Sergeant Bob an update. He wanted status ... now. Was it a valid write up or a CND (could not duplicate)? Did you have parts to order yet? Did you need more tools or test equipment? Were you hungry or thirsty? What took so long (why did you keep him waiting)?

He would take your update, make a mental list of what we needed, and move on to the next maintenance crew. Sergeant Bob would order your parts, get your special tools, get your snack or whatever you needed and come back with them in about 20 minutes. When you were done with that jet, he'd drop you off at the next one on the priority list. This was before we had computers for documenting maintenance so of course we completed our paperwork and log entries on the way to the next job.

The cycle would continue until about 20 minutes before shift change. Then it was time to clean up the truck, gather your tools and test equipment for turn in. Sergeant Bob would then return any maintenance paperwork that had errors for you to fix before going home. When all the tools were turned in and the next shift accepted the truck, we went home to rest. Then the cycle repeated.

This happened every Monday through Friday and sometimes weekends. This happened for day-to-day flying conducting aircrew training and for quarterly 24-aircraft nuclear generations. We were focused. We knew what was expected, and we completed our assigned tasks. There was great job satisfaction in knowing our mission priorities and completing them. I learned a lot about leadership and maintenance production from Bob.

Sergeant Bob also took care of us. Yes, he was mission focused, but he knew we were people. It actually sounds simple doesn't it? That's because Sergeant Bob followed the basics and he adjusted his leadership style to the situation. He was an autocrat and a coach, but could also be a salesman and a cheerleader as necessary in an environment that appeared to be controlled chaos. Sergeant Bob knew the abilities of his people. He knew our strengths and weaknesses. He paired us up based on qualifications and experience so someone could still be trained on any unqualified tasks. If you were in upgrade training you worked on your CDCs and you were quizzed in between jobs.

When I first met Sergeant Bob he was a staff sergeant in the Air Force for 15 years. He had just got a line number for technical sergeant. He had a second job and was pursuing off-duty education studying accounting. He definitely had drive. He worked hard and was humble. He never received a decoration, but that was not too common then. When I PCS'd three years later, Sergeant Bob was a technical sergeant, still a shift supervisor, and still had no decorations. He retired two years later after 20 years of dedicated service and is now a certified public accountant. He lived by the core values before we wrote them down and labeled them. Sergeant Bob definitely influenced me and was probably the best supervisor I've had.