Are you a Proactive or Reactive Leader?

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Stacy L. Otte
  • 9th Medical Group
I often hear supervisors talking about taking care of their Airmen; how they backed their Airmen while they were in trouble, gave on the spot feedback after observing them doing something wrong, even how they would make sure their EPR was a strong firewall five when the EPR was due. Those supervisors are doing good things; we all should be there for our Airmen, but all of those are examples of reactive leadership - helping Airmen after the fact. How do we cross the barrier from reactive leadership to the proactive leadership our Airmen and mission demand?

During my first few weeks at Beale, one of my new Airmen placed a "quote of the day" on our staffing board. It said, "I want to be more proactive than reactive." Two years later and since taking on the job as the 9th Medical Operations Squadron Superintendent, I often find myself referring back to his quote. I ask myself often if I am being the proactive leader my Airmen need.

Taking care of our Airmen should take place before they get into trouble or do something wrong; taking care of our Airmen happens all the time leading by example and by providing mentorship and guidance on a daily basis. As The Enlisted Force Structure says in paragraph 5.1.6, SNCOs are to be active, visible leaders and deliberately develop junior enlisted Airmen, NCOs, and SNCOs into better followers, leaders, and supervisors. As SNCOs we are expected to mentor NCOs under our charge to maximize their leadership abilities while setting the highest standards of personal integrity, loyalty, leadership, dedication, and devotion to duty; including upholding Air Force policies, traditions and standards. Taking care of our Airmen should not only occur once there is a problem, but it must happen all the time.

As leaders we should prepare Airmen for the difficult challenges and tasks they will face as supervisors and leaders. We must find ways to challenge and engage Airmen, while mentoring them to higher achievements and preparing them to take over as the leaders of tomorrow. For proactive leadership to be effective, we must build the foundation, establish the standard and hold people accountable. We must foster trust and build credibility by being reliable, showing integrity and commitment to the team. As leaders we must get out from behind our desk, take an active role and look our Airmen in the eyes.

I would challenge all supervisors to take a look at their leadership style and ensure they are taking care of their Airmen up front, not only picking up the pieces after they fall. Reactive leadership is not about taking care of our Airmen, it's about taking care of a problem. Today's Airmen are going to become tomorrow's leaders and the leaders they become start today. We have a difficult challenge as leaders; we have to mentor, lead and grow our Airmen. We must do that by proactively leading by example, taking time to mentor and provide them the tools to become successful leaders.
Leaders, I challenge you. Get out from behind your desks and talk to your Airmen. Know your people; where do they live, do they have a family or children, what are they doing outside of work, do they have the tools needed to become effective and confident leaders of tomorrow?

Know your first line supervisors. Do they tell their Airmen to volunteer, or do they volunteer with them? Do they set clear expectations up front? Do they set the example? Do they mentor them on the benefits of school, community, and unit? Do they foster an environment of camaraderie and teamwork? If not, what are you doing about it?
So, let me ask, Are you a proactive or reactive leader? Take care of your Airmen. Be intrusive, get in their business and lead from the front.