Leaving the kids at home

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. (AFNS) -- When my wife and I had our first child, it was difficult to convince her to get a babysitter and take an evening off. On those rare occasions when she did take a break, my wife would leave a list of dozens of instructions for the sitter, which amused me to no end. As our girls have grown older and become more independent, I've noticed the list becoming shorter and shorter.

When I took command and had to leave my squadron for the first time, I ensured I gave detailed instructions on what to do and whom to contact. My wife just shook her head and laughed. I was nervous about "leaving home." Not my actual home mind you, my wife had and still has the handle on that. No, I was nervous about leaving the squadron. What if something happened?

How, as a leader, can you tell if you've properly trained your Airmen? There are lots of "measurable" ways, such as operational readiness inspections and other exercises.
However, a boss of mine once said to me: "You need to train your replacement." This is good, sound advice. He also said to teach your Airmen to think two levels up so they can fill those jobs when needed and, just as importantly, can provide the answers and problem solving you need when you ask for it.

So, is there a way to tell if your Airmen are ready? You can send them on exercises of course, and deployments always test people. But one way I've learned to determine if my Airmen are ready is to go on temporary duty myself.

In my current assignment, I don't travel much; however, when I do, things tend to happen. When I first took command, I didn't want to leave the squadron, afraid that I'd miss something or that something would happen and I wouldn't be there to handle it. That wasn't new to this job, just magnified by my new scope of responsibility.

I failed to take a few things into account though. First, the squadron had been there before me and, if all goes well, will continue long after I'm gone. Second, we have incredible Airmen in today's Air Force who make things happen, even in situations they have never faced. Third -- and this may have been the most difficult to accept -- they can and will survive without me.

That's actually the key. If you've trained, mentored and nurtured your Airmen correctly, they'll survive, if not thrive, without you there to oversee things. Not that I'm saying they're going to do better without you, although that too may happen. No, what I'm saying is they'll be ok.

As I said earlier, things tend to happen back home when I go TDY or am out of the office. In our squadron, with its crisis response mission, those things tend to be, well, crises. Did and do I want to be there running things when we have to respond or there's an emergency? Sure I do. But I know that I have strong, competent Airmen who will accomplish the mission no matter what. I know that I can leave them alone and they'll perform. They keep me informed but perform the mission.

To me, that's the true mark of how one is succeeding as a leader and mentor. If you still have to be the action officer as a leader, you haven't trained your Airmen well. If they aren't empowered to accomplish the mission and have to run to you for every minor decision, you've done them, and yourself, a disservice.

If, however, you can and do leave them and they perform well, you've done the right thing. You've trained them to be leaders, to get the mission done. You've trained your replacements and done them and the Air Force a service. You've helped ensure the future.

My own kids are getting older and more independent. In a few years, they'll be old enough to stay home on their own. I'm no longer dreading that day, or dreading it as much anyway, because we've given them the tools to succeed.

Can you leave home?


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