Perspective: Thoughts on Squadron Leadership

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Nelson Rouleau
  • 12 Airborne Command and Control Squadron

'We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."

-- Albert Einstein


" ... the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual."

-- Galileo Galilei

I am of two minds when considering my time writing about leadership philosophy. On the one hand, I am bewildered as to what qualifies me to write about leadership. 

If I’ve learned anything from those who have taken time to teach me, it’s that leading is best done by the humblest of humans. 

On the other, I’ve been taught that a meaningful piece of leading is about devoting time to share experiences with those who will replace us. If by somehow penning a page will allow me to pour a better-quality runway for my replacement, I am honored to do it.  For what it’s worth, my leadership philosophy follows. 

The two passages above illuminate the topic of problems and the difficult thinking and communicating that is required to solve them.

Einstein’s idea was that peoples’ understanding is predicated on and limited to their experiences. Einstein was making the case for the advancement of knowledge, which frequently requires new solutions to existing problems. He reminds us that today’s answers will not endure forever. In fact, evolution of thought is mandatory if one seeks to answer tomorrow’s questions.

Similarly, Galileo’s words warn of the tensions that arise between long-standing institutions with entrenched positions and individuals who have the perspicacity and courage to challenge those positions. In light of the complex problems we face, one must consider both Einstein’s and Galileo’s words carefully.

Thus my leadership philosophy is founded on two lines of efforts: new solutions and courageous reasoning.

The first line of effort, and possibly the most important, is providing new solutions to existing and emerging problems. Mission accomplishment is always number one, and undoubtedly thousands of distractions will tempt us to focus on something other than the mission. My role in this line of effort is to clearly identify mission objectives, inspire innovative solutions, monitor the progress towards these objectives, and not allow the routine to keep going. 

The greatest challenge is to identify and implement necessary course corrections at the earliest opportunity.

The second line of effort is courageous and humble reasoning. Unsurprisingly, the problems that seek to mute or retard mission accomplishment will come gift-wrapped with deep-rooted positions. My role in this line of effort is to have the sharpness and mettle to challenge those positions. In the past, more than one senior leader has offered the cliché, “Be careful what you are willing to fall on your sword for.”   

That counsel is improper. 

If something is preventing proper execution of our mission, I’m obligated to solve the problem. I understand I will be challenged, and I promise to not shy away from doing what is right for our squadron and the Air Force.

In the long run, leadership models and clever catchphrases brief well, but they do little pragmatically. Thus, my leadership philosophy offers neither. Instead, my philosophy orbits around executing and inspiring innovative solutions and demonstrating the courage to not allow entrenched ideas to continue unchallenged. 

  In the end, my leadership philosophy is predicated on the proposition of producing better airminded leaders than I could ever hope to be.