Advice For New Commanders

While I usually write about leadership in general or business environments, today I’m going to write specifically to those new squadron commanders who’ll be taking command of Air Force squadrons this summer. Today’s topic is how to be a successful squadron commander in the Air Force.


1. Remember that command is a privilege.

Command in the military is transitory, you’ll usually only get two years. Remember that the deference people show you is due to your position not your person.  Never forget that you’re there to serve.

2. Live what you say.

Nothing destroys your credibility faster than saying one thing and doing another. Whatever standard operating procedures or command policies you enact, be sure to live by them yourself. As a commander, you’re always on parade; never think no one will see you “cheating.” If you make a mistake, own up to it then “drive on.”

3. Be present.

You can’t command from behind a desk. Get out and see what your Airmen are doing; learn firsthand what they struggle with, who they are, what they do. If they’re standing out in the cold at 0300, be with them. If they’re eating MRE’s, you eat MRE’s. Learn their names, understand their personal stories. Have frequent commander’s calls, communicate constantly.

4. Work performance reports, personnel actions, and decorations first.

Things like performance reports and decorations affect Airmen’s careers, and within reason, should be handled immediately. Don’t let these things sit! Handling career-affecting paperwork immediately is a tangible way to let your Airmen know you value them.

5. Be calm, be nice.

You don’t have to be a pushover, and even though sometimes you have to bark orders, calmness and common courtesy are contagious. By showing respect for others, you set the example. Arm waving is counterproductive anyway.

6. Mistakes are OK, crimes are not.

People will make the occasional mistake, but crimes are not mistakes. Abuse of alcohol, use of illegal drugs, sexual harassment or assault, dereliction of duty, etc, are all breaches of standards that can never be tolerated. Moreover, crimes like these do great harm to our fellow Airmen and degrade our ability to do our mission.

7. Think strategically, and work your bosses’ agenda.

The commander can’t lead if he doesn’t know where he’s going. That said, command can’t be self-referencing: you’ve got to work your boss’s and your boss’s boss’s agenda. Look ahead far enough to anticipate trouble, then make a plan to achieve your mission objectives.

8. Develop you leadership ethos.

Try to summarize in a few short phrases what you stand for and how you lead. Distilling your ethos into a few easy to remember and communicate ideas enables you to focus the unit. It’s OK to borrow ideas from others, but you need to make it your own.

9. Pay attention to the small things.

Don’t micromanage, but don’t ignore small things in your unit. Check spelling, cleanliness, do the math, ask questions until you understand.

10. Have fun.

Command is probably the best job you’ll ever have, and the Air Force chose you for command because senior officers believe in you. Trust your judgment, make friends, be a wingman to your fellow commanders, and appreciate the tremendous opportunity you’ve been granted!

Lead the Way!

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