548th ISRG Looks ‘Outside the Box’ to Develop Air Force Leaders

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Richard Williams
  • 548th Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group Public Affairs

Air Force leaders at every level pursue answers to one burning question: How do we build tomorrow’s exceptional leaders?

As Airmen progress through their careers, traditional professional military education (PME) programs provide a tiered approach to professional development and leadership growth. However, these opportunities have specific time and rank requirements, leaving gaps during which leaders search for alternative avenues to develop themselves and their Airmen.

In order to tackle this challenge head on and advance Air Force senior leadership’s priority of developing exceptional leaders to lead the world’s most powerful team, Col. Scott Nahrgang, 548th Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group commander, pursued a nontraditional military resource which is often used in the private sector: an executive coach.

“Supervisors have proven very willing to share positive assessments, but have been less forthcoming about highlighting areas in which I could improve,” said Nahrgang. “Sessions that only identify the positives don’t produce diverse growth, so I was looking for a way to continue to grow as a leader by obtaining unvarnished feedback from an outside perspective.

”Nahrgang identified that if he has encountered this issue, other Airmen across the Total Force probably have too.

After corresponding with Dr. Senia Maymin, a top Silicon Valley corporate executive coach, they established an executive coaching plan. It began in June 2018 with the intent of being showcased to other units as an external leadership development opportunity and a way to grow partnerships with the private sector.

The initial plan comprised 12 one-on-one coaching sessions for Nahrgang and his four squadron commanders, and two group sessions.  These sessions provided opportunities to recognize strengths as well as areas for improvement.

Nahrgang said he could see the positive impact from the sessions “fairly quickly” as executive coaching provided him a framework to better balance daily operational and administrative tasks and his larger mission priorities.

“As the group commander, I need to spend time operating above the tactical level and thinking strategically,” said Nahrgang. “Dr. Maymin’s executive coaching has provided a formal mechanism for me to regularly step back from daily tasks and focus on operational and strategic responsibilities.”

Nahrgang also saw a chance to implement the same strategy for everyone around him and not just his squadron leadership team. Recognizing that individual executive coaching sessions were not feasible for each 548th ISRG Airman, Nahrgang converted one of the group sessions into four 90-minute strengths, leadership, and resilience seminars available to all Airmen assigned to the group.

Chief Master Sgt. Ian Eishen, 548th ISRG superintendent, had envisioned something similar for the enlisted force, but was never sure it was within the realm of the possible until he heard the initial plan for officers.

“The seminars reinforce what we teach in PME, but come at it from a different angle,” he explained. “It is hard to predict what messages or tools will resonate with a certain Airman, so increasing the access to new tools and ideas, even by nontraditional means, is extremely beneficial.”

Eishen added that hosting the seminars may not have an immediate impact on the mission, but it will help to provide a foundation to encourage network building, diversity of thought, and effectively increases the Air Force’s ability to partner with the private sector to solve problems.

He noted that executive coaching is used in industry, but has not been explored by the Air Force and this type of professional development could pay dividends in professional development, networking with industry partners, and talent management of Airmen.

“Being able to get an outside point of view from industry and academia is huge when brainstorming military problems,” said Eishen. “Our missions may be unique, but our problems are not. Sometimes we just need a different perspective to refocus our problem-solving abilities.”