Outlook on leadership

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- In today's challenging but technology-driven times, preeminent leaders have mastered the art of leadership in absentia through liberal use of Microsoft Outlook, perhaps better known as leadership through email. They have overcome archaic theories such as management by walking around and the obsolescent belief that physical leadership presence in work centers is necessary to effectively lead people.

In this digital age, the strongest leaders have recognized that using email alone to manage an organization from the comfort of their own office is a far more efficient and effective way to motivate people. So get a comfortable office chair and an oversized computer monitor and you too will be on the way to the top of the leadership pyramid.

Well, you've continued reading this article which is good - albeit slightly surprising, but now for the wake-up call. Email is not the panacea - get out from behind your computer!

Though arguably a convenient way to accomplish limited communication, email has become the bane of our existence. If you allow it, the "Outlook monster" will swallow every minute of your precious time. Accept now that your inbox will never be empty, and someone will always beat you in the competition to send the last email of the day. That's the first liberating step on your way to effective leadership.

Throughout the past few years, I've made several observations about leadership, and I'll share three now.

First, our Airmen want to know that we care about them. Though a nice gesture, this cannot be accomplished through a congratulatory email alone. They thrive on seeing leaders in the workplace and public acknowledgement of their good deeds. They want to see that we know their name and hear that we know more about them than just their rank and duty section. The benefit of these powerful motivational forces will not be realized if you spend the entire day fighting the unwinnable email battle.

Second, our Airmen want to be empowered to do their jobs. Though some degree of a "trust but verify" atmosphere is often warranted, when Airmen truly feel empowered and trusted by their leaders, even the need for verification becomes nearly superfluous.

Motivated Airmen want nothing more than to please their supervisor by hitting a home run, but a supervisor known only as an email address cannot inspire this level of motivation. With proper guidance and clear expectations, empower them by turning them loose and stepping aside. Their drive and initiative will move mountains.

Finally, Airmen simply want to have fun, both in and away from the workplace. Government email is not fun. We need to focus our creative energy on providing an enjoyable work environment and opportunity for camaraderie.

Airmen feed on our optimism and positive attitude, which in turn breeds the same in them. Spreading that optimism in person is much easier than through email. When our people take pleasure in coming to work and enjoy attending squadron activities, we have succeeded in providing them a positive and thriving environment where mission success is a natural result.

I'm certainly not claiming to have beaten the email devil for good. On the days that I do win or simply bow out of the email brawl, it allows me to spend time with my Airmen instead of my keyboard. This gives me great relief, and I am infinitely more confident about the leadership I'm trying to provide.

I'd urge you to give it a try. Pull your ID card out of the computer now, and go out and lead your Airmen!