Are you a situational leader?

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- If you've been to any form of Air Force Professional Military Education, you have undoubtedly learned about situational leadership or spent some time studying the four-quadrant model created by behavioral theorists Paul Hersey and Kenneth H. Blanchard. I'm not going to broach those details here, however the subject has always intrigued me because I've had to apply an adaptive management style in every supervisory position I've had in my Air Force career. 

I manage a small flight of six exceptional noncommissioned officers in the 30th Launch Support Squadron. All of them have been in the Air Force over 12 years. As spacecraft mission managers, they are responsible for wing integration, payload processing and mission assurance for every Department of Defense satellite launched from Vandenberg. They accomplish each task assigned to them flawlessly and improve every process they touch. They are empowered. 

You may think that supervising such a fine group of people wouldn't be very challenging, but the challenge for me is in exercising discretion and restraint. Since I've been in this position, I haven't had to issue any corrective counseling, deal with any attitude problems or worry that a task is too big for one of my NCOs to handle. In fact, I sleep very well at night. If you ask anyone in my flight, they will say that I am a pretty easy going supervisor and that they've never seen me mad or yell at anyone. That hasn't always been the case. 

In my last position at my previous base, I managed a flight comprised of 12 first-term Airmen. For the most part, they were good Airmen; however, some of them hadn't quite grown into the responsibility entrusted to them as ICBM maintenance technicians working on a nuclear weapon system. Some of them were lacking maturity and judgment. I didn't always sleep well. I conducted a lot of counseling sessions. If you asked anyone in the flight at my last base, they would say that I was a very strict and demanding supervisor who provided constant direction and "tough love" mentoring. 

The group of Airmen I mentioned at my last base required frequent and direct interaction. They needed to be told exactly what do, when to do it, and how to do the job; not because they were poor Airmen, but because they were inexperienced and hadn't developed the proficiency required of a skilled craftsman. As a supervisor, the time I spent working with them and guiding them toward the end result was considered good mentoring, it helped build their confidence and ability, and made them better Airmen. Had I not been involved to the degree that I was, then I would have failed as a leader. 

Let's fast forward to the current group of NCOs I currently supervise. Given the same circumstances, if I applied the same leadership approach now that I did with the young Airmen, and told them exactly what, when, and how to do the job, I would likely be labeled as a "micro-manager". The NCOs would perceive a lack of trust in their ability, which would erode their confidence and morale. In fact, they would feel smothered. 

I've realized that utilizing situational leadership is the key to being a productive leader. If you don't have a flexible leadership "style", then you're setting yourself, and your Airmen, up for ineffective results.