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Leadership Lessons: The CJ1 Perspective

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June 16, 2011
Colonel Phil Bossert, USAF - CMleadershipSeminars@gmail.com

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I’ve been very fortunate in my U.S. Air Force career and now as a civilian advisor to the Afghan Ministry of Defense in Kabul to have had many opportunities to lead and teach leadership, during peacetime and wartime.   I’ve also interacted with every directorate of several warfighting commands. The CJ1 is responsible for personnel issues including developing accurate job positions and hiring the right people to fill those positions.  The corporate equivalent is Human Resources.   There are three crucial leadership functions that CJ1 performs including enforcing standards, training and education and implementing caring for people programs. 

I hope you are still reading and I promise I won’t bury you with military acronyms.   By the way I am writing this from the Green Zone in Kabul where I have been working for the last six months and am assigned to the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan.  This is a great example of a multinational and joint headquarters.  There are 49 nations participating in this mission and thousands of U.S. Army, Air Force, Marine, Navy and Coast Guard personnel serving alongside hundreds of civilian advisors, most of whom are retired military officers.   

Wartime commanders and corporate CEOs are responsible for upholding the core values of their organizations.  They do this by leading by example, through explaining clearly to everyone what the standards are, and by dealing with any infractions of those standards quickly, fairly and appropriately. 

Many times the staff judge advocate (JAG) must get involved to make sure all applicable laws are followed.  Earlier in my career I attended a two-week course to be a squadron commander, and we spent three days with the JAG.  Much of the JAG’s discussions involved dealing with bad actors.

Unfortunately I had to use that training several times in my career.  Shortly after I became a squadron commander five airmen were identified as disciplinary problems.   After conferring with their immediate supervisors and checking with the JAG, we took action.  One Friday they lined up outside my office door and, one by one, reported in to me.  With my first sergeant as a witness, I read them a carefully worded memo which said they had no more second chances and needed to meet standards. 

Four of them immediately improved, but one I had to discharge. The command climate that we established was crucial in making sure my squadron was ready to accomplish its wartime mission.  Just a few months later we were one of the first USAF squadrons to deploy overseas after 9/11. 

CJ1 also coordinates education and training.   A key tenant of leadership in the world’s greatest military is to make sure all personnel receive adequate education and training, not just so they can do their primary jobs like flying, medical, intelligence, etc., but also so they can develop as leaders and pursue their own areas of study. 

I currently advise 30 Afghan officers including three generals and 15 colonels.  I am teaching them how to develop a three year defense budget, a key function they must be able to perform so we can eventually leave.  We developed a 44 lesson training program which is teaching them programming, the military term for defense budgeting.  After just a few months we are seeing positive results. 

A final leadership function that CJ1 performs is assisting the commander in taking care of their people through recognition programs, promotions, quality of life initiatives, and simply showing they care.  Many in the business world are familiar with the term servant leadership.  While the U.S. military recognizes this term, we don’t use this as taking care of our people is inherent in our definition of leadership.  

When I commanded 100 airmen at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan in the spring of 2002, a young Airman on our team was notified of a family emergency 8,500 miles back home.  Her supervisor explained to me the situation and asked what we should do.  I had one question:  if we sent her home tomorrow could we still accomplish our mission?  He immediately said yes.  Three hours later she was on a C-17 transport heading home.

The personnel experts in CJ1 and human resources have many roles and responsibilities that support their leaders including upholding standards, providing education and training and rewarding good work.   If leaders don’t take care of their people, their people will take care of them, but not in ways they want.   

Taking care of people is crucial because they will make or break the mission.  

Colonel Phil Bossert recently retired from the USAF after 28 years on active duty.  A 1982 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and an airlift pilot with over 3,900 hours of flight time, he is a veteran of military operations in Afghanistan, the First Gulf War, and Panama. Colonel Bossert returns to Friendswood, Texas, in December 2011 where he will launch Civil/Military Leadership Seminars. He can be reached at: CMleadershipSeminars@gmail.com.  

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