Summer transitions: Planning, leadership and attitudes matter

DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- "Change is the only constant."

"Flexibility is the key to Airpower."

For those of us who have been around the military for a while, these are familiar mantras. Change is inevitable with new assignments, deployments and new mission sets.

Seldom does change impact individuals and units more than during the permanent change of station season, even those who are not moving or deploying, but instead staying put, "holding down the fort." During temporary vacancies from PCSs and summer leaves, a unit may start to go adrift without careful planning and leadership.

In truth, each of us has the ability to positively influence how our units will fare during PCS season, no matter what our rank. Our attitudes matter. So does a little planning.

Here are some planning tips and advice I've drawn from my experiences in the Air Force as well as from lessons in our professional military education:

Make sure everyone knows the unit's mission and vision.

It's a good idea to remind everyone in every work center their service matters, especially those who've been around but are taking on new leadership roles while others depart. Reminding the team why we are essential to mission success goes a long way toward motivating pride, excellence and fostering innovation. 

Maintain a sense of urgency, and point out challenges the unit will face in the near term.

I serve in the 25th Operational Weather Squadron, where our mission is to provide accurate, timely and relevant weather information to AF, Army, Guard and Reserve forces operating at 86 DoD installations across Western North America.

Forecasting severe thunderstorms will become a major challenge as spring transitions into summer across Arizona and the rest of our area of responsibility. Now is the time for us to do refresher training, mentor junior forecasters and ensure our systems and processes are ready.

Our junior officers and NCOs will be asked to let their expertise shine. They will have new responsibilities in the midst of the challenging forecast scenarios and transitions in people. 

If in a leadership role, make extra time to be visible and available.

Here is an opportunity to describe changes and inconveniences that are in store, face-to-face. General Creech famously said, "It all begins and ends with people...consider [them] first, treat them well." People will know they are valued by the way they are treated and spoken to.

By making the time, you will better learn peoples' preferences, strengths and shortcomings, all very crucial to mission success. You will also show newcomers that their voices are heard.

Empower others to take action.

In our squadron, we moved an Airman forecaster over to the unit's systems team full time, even though his section was tightly manned. Already one of our best forecasters, he had been a computer science major in college and quickly made a reputation with his innovative software programming skills.

While on the systems team for just three months, he helped implement automated tools that saved time and improved strategic weather threat outlooks, now being adopted in four operational weather squadrons. Equally important, his work and the work of his team paved the way for smarter operational practices this summer during PCS season.

Control the things you can.

Maintain the currently-established battle rhythm, employ ORM, and keep leadership style, scheduling and routines stable. An established battle rhythm reminds individuals what is expected of them, even in turbulent times. General Tunner drew on standardization, efficiency and predictability in his battle rhythm to famously gain efficiencies and orchestrate the 1948 Berlin Airlift.

"Attitude is everything."

Attitudes can lift or tear down a team, as the renowned author, John C. Maxwell, points out. Attitudes are contagious and each of us can control our own. Attitudes determine how we will approach the day, and will define the culture of our unit to newcomers.

Ten members of our squadron recently completed the 22nd Annual Bataan Death March, a 26.2 mile trek in New Mexico, honoring the heroism of service members who defended the Philippines in WWII. One of our officers described the encouragement and can-do attitudes fellow Wingmen portrayed throughout the day, which inspired him to persevere and finish strongly with the same mindset, despite blisters and the burden of a 40-pound rucksack.

Our nation looks to the military to execute the mission with pride, professionalism and excellence. During the PCS season, keeping organizations running on all cylinders can be a challenge, but it is a must.

I hope some of these tips will prove useful to you and your unit as another busy season of change approaches.