Education to Operation: Leading through change

Capt. Robert McGaha, 60th Civil Engineer Squadron, shares some thoughts on leading Airmen through change. (Courtesy Photo)

Capt. Robert McGaha, 60th Civil Engineer Squadron, shares some thoughts on leading Airmen through change. (Courtesy Photo)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Transitioning to a new unit, role or leadership position can be daunting. 

Questions of my currency and organizational climate quickly come to mind. They certainly did as I prepared to come to a base level operational unit like the 60th Civil Engineer Squadron from my previous tour as a student at the Air Force Institute of Technology. 

During my educational assignment, I was away from civil engineering for almost two years. In that time, the Air Force introduced a new work order request computer system and brought the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center online.

While I was getting the same emails and updates as my peers, I wouldn’t actually see or experience these changes until months after graduation, leaving me wondering, “How can I perform my duties at a higher level when I’m essentially relearning the basic processes?”

The work climate in an educational setting is also particularly different. At AFIT, your job revolves around research – you have a simplified, focused mindset working on your one specific problem. How does one transition from this setting to the wider spectrum of leading Airmen, projects or managing a work center?

The atmosphere set by the leadership of your next unit determines that approach. When any of us approach our next assignment we always have the same thoughts; “What are my coworkers like?” “How is the work pace?” “What are my leaders like?”

The last question there was particularly important to me, as leadership sets the tone for your assignment, good or bad. But what exactly do we want from our leaders when placed in a new setting? I want someone to provide the structure and guidance I needed after my time spent away and the environment to help me learn the new processes that have now become the norm. I needed a leader to address my currency and climate concerns.

You may have pondered these same questions while being shown around the squadron until brought to your shop and told, “These are the Airmen you’ll be overseeing and here’s what we do.” This is when you realize that you will be one of the leaders of your unit. Maybe at your last station you were a program or project manager, then your next you end up leading the people who are managing those programs.

Personally, I had all of these grand expectations for leadership, but failed to stop and realize I was going to be part of that leadership. I wanted currency – the structure and guidance to be successful so that is what I must do for my organization. I needed a positive climate – one that would understand and provide for my needs so that is how I must serve my Airmen.

Being a leader is not about the position in which you’re placed. It’s about providing for the needs of your Airmen and organization. How would you describe the leader you want to serve? Take the time to answer that question. Now strive to be that leader for your Airmen, squadron and Team Travis.