Leadership Commentary

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Joseph D'Amico
  • 52nd Security Forces Squadron
By now, everyone should be embracing and executing our Wing's mission statement, pillars, and priorities (Mission, Airmen and Community). Our Wing Commander's combination of vision and leadership is the perfect recipe for success, but it takes all of you to make it happen. 

That means we need you, our most valuable resource, to provide steadfast leadership at all levels to deliver the Wing's combat capability to stakeholders. Leadership is a critical node in our Air Force and without it, we risk mission failure.

I am not going to teach you the many aspects of leadership because you will learn both the science and art of leadership through many other venues (PME, leadership classes, seminars, etc.). Your life and work experience will also shape you as you apply the leadership concepts you learn throughout your career. The Air Force does a great job giving you those tools and we expect supervisors to deliberately develop Airmen. What I am going to talk about is not letting things you cannot control have control over you and your emotions and how this philosophy has shaped me into the leader I am today.

As a leader, you will face many challenges and make many decisions. You must remain steadfast in your leadership and remember your decisions will have a direct impact on the people you lead. One aspect of steadfast leadership is not allowing things you cannot control to control you, or affect how you interact with your superiors, subordinates, and peers. This is a valuable lesson I learned as I transitioned from the United States Army to our Air Force as a young captain.

Prior to May 2001, I was a cavalry officer in the U.S. Army. I held the positions of tank platoon leader, squadron movement officer, and troop (company) commander. My job was high stress, high tempo, and not conducive to balancing mission and family. In fact, I was an authoritative leader who got spun-up about everything. If you have seen the movie "Full Metal Jacket," then picture me playing the part of R. Lee Ermey.

My leadership style followed me to the Air Force as I joined Security Forces. I did not take notice as this was normal for me, and a lot of Airmen in my unit liked the change of pace. Leaders in my unit would come to me when they had Airmen issues or when suspects were uncooperative as they knew Captain D'Amico would light them up.  Unfortunately, my leadership style did not resonate with everyone in a positive way.  I projected fear and apprehension in some people and I was unaware of the impact this type of leadership style had on other Airmen.

One day, my commander called me while he was on leave and asked me to be at his house the next morning to go snowboarding. When I arrived the next day, he used the time driving to the mountain to mentor me knowing I could not escape the confines of the car. He shared observations with me and helped me gain some self-awareness.  One striking observation was when he said I did not handle pressure well. He caught me off guard and I asked him for a few moments to reflect before I responded.

In my young, confident self, I told him I did not concur with his assessment. I gave him many examples where I had been in stressful situations and was able to analyze the situation, develop courses of action, and be decisive. I tried to prove I was a successful leader and confessed that I probably let some people and situations push my buttons, and I tend to project fear and apprehension in some people. He recanted his observation about not handling pressure and acknowledged I was a good leader, but said I needed to have self-awareness on how my style could unintentionally impact some Airmen in a negative way.

Part of this self-awareness was assessing my reaction to events I could not control.  He asked me, "When your blood starts to boil, what can you do to change what has already happened?" Simple; you cannot change something after it happens because it is in the past. "Then why are you letting something you cannot control have control over you and your emotions?" he said.

That is the moment I garnered awareness of my blind self; the part of us where we do or say something that has an impact on other people (good, bad, or indifferent), but we do not have self-awareness. Knowing our blind self gives us the opportunity to do self-reflection, self-analysis, and behavior modification if needed. It took me three years of dedication to completely transform myself where It takes a lot to get me fired-up; it rarely happens these days.

A couple of months after assuming command of my first squadron, my Chief Master Sergeant disclosed that I was different from what he expected or heard about - that he expected me to come to the unit and light people up. The fact he told me this was validation that my transformation was successful.

I share this story with you because it is important to understand you will face many challenges as leaders. Many of which you will have no control over. You must remain steadfast in your leadership and remember the decisions you make will have an impact on the mission and the people. Constant application of the leadership tools you garner throughout your career, especially self-reflection, will be key in becoming or remaining a successful leader. 

Spend time to discover your blind self and improve the art of your leadership. This wing and the Air Force are counting on you to leave every place better than you found it. Your challenges in this endeavor should be to deliberately develop Airmen, meet stakeholder expectations, and to honor our core values. Lead on!