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Power: It’s Basis and Implications for Leaders

  • Published
  • By Col. Charles Dunn
  • 43rd Mission Support Group Commander
Countless books, articles and briefings focus on leadership principles and these stores of information are more readily available than ever before. If only we could assimilate these nuggets of information, then logically we'd improve our ability to influence others and by so doing, we'd help to improve the world around us. Therefore we read, we agree, we become "energized" (we feel good!), yet, all too often these seemingly powerful leadership truths soon fade from memory. It seems the information we assimilate is fleeting, not because we have bad memories, but rather--we fail to use a disciplined approach to turn this stored-up information (a.k.a. potential energy) into power to effect change. 

Yet, the power to release energy, the power to effect change--resides in every Airman. Alone, an Airman has limited potential to effect change, yet collectively, with the friendly alliance of minds, great power is possible. I define this greater power as "the coordination of knowledge and effort in a spirit of harmony, between two or more people, for the attainment of a definite purpose." This contrasts with the power we attribute to specific positions in the military hierarchy. Each form of power has its place, and discerning the appropriate (desired) power is a serious and calculated decision. 

We're all familiar with at least some of the social structures implemented to facilitate organizational power, e.g., brain trusts, think tanks, tiger teams, LEAN teams, and rapid improvement events. The Air Force has instituted a framework to help us achieve great power--we call it Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century (AFSO-21). This framework enables every Airman to participate in decisions affecting the future of their unit and ultimately the future of the Air Force. Process is at the heart of the AFSO-21 framework for good reason--process and information are integrally linked. Information is produced by all processes; it is the "values of characteristics" in the processes' output that are information. Any actions we take to effect change must consider the processes which generate the information. Simply stated, doing the same thing over and over again hoping to achieve different results is insanity! The corollary (not doing the same thing over and over leads to different results) is equally important as evidenced recently by the embarrassing misplacement of nuclear-related equipment. Here, processes must be highly defined and repeatable as departing from process can have grave consequences. 

We must comply with our techniques, tactics and procedures and accomplish tasks the approved/correct way, and not tolerate shortcuts. At the same time we must identify needed corrective action. 

In closing, consider these very important questions: Do we enable every Airman to participate in the change process, i.e., are they empowered? If we make a decision without involving others, did we first consider a "friendly alliance of minds"? Do we use established/proven processes or make an effort to have them changed? When our process statistics reveal anomalies or process deviation, do we respond (in a structured approach) or do we "complain and blame" while the process continues to spiral out of control? 

One final thought... Given all that we know about the universe, everything physical is either energy or matter. The energy we expend (the good, the bad and the ugly, positive and negative, productive and non-productive) has a consequence on those around us and ultimately the mission. I'm sure we've all witnessed the inappropriate means and/or use of power and then experienced the painful consequences, and yes, sometimes we ourselves were responsible for that bad behavior. To avoid these pitfalls we must live for a higher purpose, a higher calling. Personally I choose to live fearlessly, act heroically, and take responsibility for myself and my actions. 

My wife, Brenda, and I are happy to call Pope home and look forward to serving with the finest Airmen.