Strong leadership is money in the bank

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- I am a big "Star Trek" fan and am a little suspicious of those who aren't.

On the show, there is a machine called a replicator. In theory, a replicator works by rearranging subatomic particles to form molecules and arranging those molecules to form the object. What a great concept for managing an organization's operational requirements. Just program some schematics in the computer and voilà ... new furniture and plasma screens for everyone. Unfortunately, resource management doesn't work that way. There is a great deal of planning, strategizing and leadership involved. Since I have a finance background, I thought I would take a few lessons I have learned from some of the great leaders I have worked with and discuss them from a financial perspective.

I've been through a few fiscal year end closeouts and one thing is constant: those who have their projects ready to execute get the money first. Planning for the next end of the fiscal year should begin shortly after the previous one concludes. If an organization cannot quickly answer the question, "where can I spend the next dollar I receive," they will quickly fall prey to an organization that can. Without the assistance of a crystal ball, it's difficult to predict when the next quick-turn funding tasking, quality of life initiative or commanders' reserve call will pop up. Organizations that are prepared to consistently provide the best justification backed by the best data will consistently walk away the winner.

According to Sir Isaac Newton's third law of motion, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is remarkably applicable to financial leadership. An organization is expected to accomplish its mission with its allocated resources, and leaders seldom have enough manpower, time or money to accomplish their mission. As a result, operating within a finite budget becomes a balancing act. Taking on new projects often results in pulling funds from other projects.

The success of an organization's ability to accomplish its mission often comes down to the ability of leaders at all levels to effectively balance the organization's shortfalls. Developing a comprehensive multi-year plan for improving the organization is critical. This includes a prioritized list of requirements that can be accomplished today and those that will be accomplished in the future. Remember that a vision without resources is an illusion, but strong leadership can turn the illusion into reality.

The vast majority of choices that get people in trouble include alcohol, drugs, sex and of course money. There are countless examples of people in the Department of Defense who have sacrificed integrity for personal gain or have simply made uninformed choices. As members of the armed forces, we are all stewards of the taxpayer's dollars and ultimately their trust.

The key to retaining this trust is ensuring we all put forth an honest effort to do what is right. Our actions should be transparent and credible. In short, if the results of our decisions end up on the front page of newspapers, could we defend them in good conscience? When you see people heading down the wrong path, correct them and hold them accountable. If that person is you, remember Airmen will not trust a leader who does not consider himself accountable for his own actions.

Budgetary constraints, manpower reductions, and doing more with less are now a routine part of the way we do business. As we head toward leaner times, the immortal words of Winston Churchill have never rung truer, "we are out of money, now we have to think."

The Air Force has managed to get through every fiscal year since 1947, and I have a good feeling we'll make it again this year. However, through all the uncertainty, one thing remains constant ... strong leadership is money in the bank.