Challenging the Status Quo: Leadership in today's resource-constrained Air Force

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Robert "Jack" Haas
  • 50th Flying Training Squadron commander
After having the honor of commanding the 50th Flying Training Squadron for nearly two years, neither my squadron nor the United States Air Force is the same as when I took command. Many of the changes have made us more efficient at accomplishing our mission while maintaining the high standards expected of military professionals. However, we also face challenges that render maintaining the status quo unsustainable. The U.S. Air Force and Department of Defense face budget, personnel and resource constraints that most of us have not seen in our career. However, we must move forward with less people and money and still accomplish the mission set before us by our chain of command. I humbly share some thoughts and concepts for every enlisted, officer and civilian Airman to consider as we strive to become more lean and efficient while maintaining our mission focus.

First, maintaining the status quo is no longer an option. We cannot simply continue to do things the way we have always done them. Change requires the innovations and ideas of every Airman, not just the commanders and chiefs. Before we can change the way we do business, however, there needs to be an environment that is conducive to innovation and change. Leaders need to foster an atmosphere where failure is not punished. Innovation is built on the foundation of failure and capitalizing lessons learned, and if failure is punished, Airmen will not be willing to step forward and try new ways of doing business. Supervisors and commanders at all levels must be willing to accept and shoulder failure as well as celebrate successes, and ensure a thorough debrief is always accomplished to glean lessons learned.

A prime example of this concept is when the 50th FTS transitioned to a fully electronic, centralized scheduling system. For years, the status quo for scheduling flights in pilot training was for each flight to "own" instructor pilots (IPs) and schedule them with students using a magnetic puck board system. If a flight did not have enough IPs, they had to walk around the squadron and hunt down someone from another flight to help. Due to deployments, increased student loads and other manning challenges, we could no longer pool together enough IPs to fill our daily schedule. Led by some of our youngest officers, the 50th FTS transitioned to a centralized scheduling operation, where all instructors were pooled together to maximize our ability to fill the schedule while giving back hours each day to the flight commanders and flight schedulers. With this fairly drastic change in how we did business, we were able to reduce our flying window by one hour and fill our flying schedule. However, there were many bumps, hurdles, and failures along the way. We learned from those failures and mitigated the impacts of future failures to figure out how to make the system work, and today enjoy the fruits of that labor.

Also, as an Air Force, we need to encourage Airmen to approach everything they do by asking "why". The intent is not to question the orders of those appointed over us, but to find out why we do certain tasks. We can no longer do more with less. Now is the time to lead into an era of doing less with less. I am not the first to highlight this issue, but each day I see more and more things that are being done and taking away Airmen's time and our resources without understanding why those things are being done. Leaders should encourage all Airmen to search for things they feel we can and should stop doing, and funnel those ideas up through the proper chains. The time invested in this process now could result in time and resource saving far beyond what any of us expect.

Despite what many an angry captain or staff sergeant may think, change is rarely, if ever, done for the sake of change or so that someone can get promoted. Change happens because someone believes there are better ways to accomplish our daily tasks that make the mission happen. That's why we're running a 30-day "Airmen Powered by Innovation" call for ideas on how we can cut costs and better fly, fight and win. You can submit your idea one of three ways:

1. The Air Force Portal link provides for submission of ideas and/or an interactive discussion forum:

2. The Air Force Public Site is set up for access via your mobile device or home computers:

3. Visit the "Airmen Powered by Innovation" Facebook page:

The status quo is no longer sustainable for our Airmen, our families and our nation's precious resources. Today's unique fiscal environment demands that ALL Airmen step up to lead, ask why and find leaner and more efficient ways to accomplish our mission.