Commander's Forum: Support your commander, even when you disagree

  • Published
  • By Doyle Janzen
  • 412th Range Squadron director
Most of us have comfort zones we like to stay in. We do things that come easily and migrate to activities we enjoy. We even hang around people that are most like us and agree on how things should be done.

However, commanders and leaders don't have that luxury. Effective commanders are immersed with differing opinions every day and surround themselves with uncomfortable and unfamiliar problems. Leaders don't need a management team of yes-people, but rather creative and original thinking to support their decision-making process. Facing challenges head on and making tough decisions that are sometimes unpopular is the only way to survive in today's volatile environment.

Every commander and leader should provide the strategic vision for the organization and Air Force Flight Test Center leadership has done that via several forums. Additionally, the framework for achieving the vision must exist. This is where difficulties can arise for those stuck in their comfort zones. The framework for achieving our goals at the AFFTC is changing dramatically.

It's no secret the Department of Defense is facing unprecedented budget cuts while our test workload at Edwards is on the rise. We are slated to host 9 Developmental Test and 20 Operational Test F-35 aircraft in the next several years while the F-22 program gears up for Increment 3.2 - more testing than the entire F-22 Engineering Manufacturing Development phase. Increasing remotely piloted aircraft tests, bomber tests, cargo tests, trainer-X, and KC-X all make for a tremendous workload expected of us while the pocketbook keeps getting cut. We must all get out of our comfort zone and find different ways to accomplish the mission including shedding low priority work and possibly cutting some capabilities.

Decisions to handle our dilemma can be hard to swallow for those wanting to do things the way they have always been done. To help our commanders, it is everyone's responsibility to be honest even when we disagree with them. You can tell them what you really think but must remain professional and leave your emotions behind. Provide your boss with as much information and as many options as possible and show how your ideas support the vision and best interests of the organization. Effective commanders remain open-minded and welcome opinions from varied backgrounds for consideration.

Once the boss makes a decision though, the arguing and dissent must stop. Everyone in the unit is obligated to align their thinking with the commander and make every effort to help the organization succeed. When we don't like a commander's decisions, it becomes vital to trust them because they see the 50,000 foot view that we often do not. Most employees are privy to only a fraction of the information the commander has, and cannot really assess the higher-order impacts of most decisions.

At the 412th Range Squadron, our mission is to enable testers to achieve their objectives efficiently resulting in actionable data for the warfighter and acquisition decision-makers. We are a support organization for the test community. Although we strive to team with customers in test planning, test execution, and reporting, we sometimes don't see the big picture on warfighter priorities or acquisition decisions. That's okay because senior leadership at the AFFTC maintains that view for us. We know some standard practices in the Range will change because our budget to sustain and upgrade Range systems is about 12 percent of what it has been in recent years. This will require unconventional thinking and difficult decisions, but we will continue meeting the mission if we support our commanders whether we agree with all their decisions or not.