Advice for Colonels applicable to all leaders

“Wisdom is better than silver and gold.” In this episode, I share the top seven takeaways I learned from my recent “new O6/Colonel orientation.” Many leadership lessons were shared, but certain themes and topics apply to a broader range of leaders who can take advantage of this wisdom at their current level to drive positive impact and better team effectiveness.

Here are some of the top themes I took away from my recent New O6/Colonel Orientation that I believe applies to leaders at every level:

Convergence – The Information Warfare developmental category of officers contains Cyber Operations, Weather, Intelligence, and Public Affairs. We realized that our respective AFSCs need to work together to truly converge and dominate information warfare, which has become more prevalent over kinetic warfare. Finding ways to combine seemingly disparate functions to Fly, Fight, and Win during competition or conflict will be imperative for the foreseeable future.

Decision Advantage – Closely related to information warfare, empowering leadership at all levels with decision advantage will be critical during competition and conflict. Some of this will be dependent on adopting new technologies to deliver machine-assisted decisions, yet we are not quite there yet. We still must operate with the resources we have now, but we must work quickly to understand where opportunities of change must be executed and not buried within the bureaucracy.

Manage below the Badge – Throughout our career, we are expected to be functional experts for our assigned specialties as represented by the badges we wear on our OCP uniforms. However, at the O6 level, we are expected to understand the strategic nature of these functions and how they work together to support the mission of our service, which happens to be represented by the U.S. Air Force tape we wear below our functional badges. By thinking about how we can support each other, we can advance the larger team to even greater success.

Talk with, not at people – The term “O6 level discussion” is potentially short hand for “let’s get cut through the tape and just get this done.” Arguably, this can happen at any peer level. This speaks directly to solving problems at the lowest level. In addition, by getting to know our peers and teammates at the human level like a “flat organization,” we can better understand each other’s perspectives and biases so we can not work against the, but instead find commonalities toward success. 

Work/Life Harmony – I stopped believing in work/life balance a while ago because I don’t think it is a realistic way to manage your time. Creating balance may seem like a short-term fix that can’t be sustained. However, thinking about work/life harmony over a longer time horizon seems to be a better fit at all levels. The military life will give you many “work opportunities” over your career, so make sure you find harmony in your personal life to not let those opportunities overwhelm you.

Action Plan > Strategy –  While it can feel grand to have a strategy towards a problem, that strategy may not communicate at the right level to drive action. The simple change in language to an action plan drives a different type of response from the audience: don’t overthink things, get started already! Find ways to ensure you can measure and assess progress within an action plan so that you know you are making forward progress, else you could get stuck admiring a strategy that doesn’t produce any results.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate – I’ve bet you’ve heard this before: “In an increasingly connected world, we are more and more disconnected from each other.” To overcome this, we need to figure out the best method to have meaningful connections with each other so we do not lose the human factor. Sometimes that could be via electronic means, other times it could be a phone call or quick office visit. Find the right medium for communication and get after it.

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