A panel of Air Force representatives discussed qualities essential to being a military leader—including adaptability and decisiveness—while stressing that the military must address economic difficulties in the years to come.
“A real difference about the way leadership works in the military is leading rather than managing. Some organizations are truly led, but most are merely managed,” said General Philip M. Breedlove, the vice chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force.
General Breedlove, who is the second highest ranking officer in the Air Force, cited honesty, decisiveness, and loyalty as traits important for military leaders.
“It’s a little of being in the right place at the right time, having the right jobs, performing well at them, and then surviving to the next grade,” Breedlove said.
But, above all, Breedlove said adaptability, in addition to character, is a key aspect of a successful military officer.
“No plan, no study, no preparation survives contact with the enemy, because the enemy often acts in unpredictable ways,” said General Breedlove. “Chaos happens, and leaders react and overcome.”
But the challenge of overcoming changing circumstances, the panel said, is not one limited to combat.
“Customs and cultural differences are driving the changes in how we do our business,” said Captain Jordan B. Clark, a fuels management officer of the 39th, referring to stints deployed abroad.
These changes, felt both at home and overseas, will affect both current Air Force leaders and the generation of future leaders, said Colonel Joe C. Herron, the director of the Office of Defense Cooperation in the United Kingdom.
In particular, the panelists cited the current domestic economic situation as a challenge that Air Force leaders will have to face in the near future.
“I’ll testify next week in front of Congress to find $450 billion out of the budget in the next 10 years,” Gen. Breedlove said. “Our military needs to be a part of the fiscal recovery of this nation.”
“At the local level, we’ve already had to teach our airmen to be in that mentality to save,”Capt. Clark said.
Now we have to be more fiscally aware of how we handle things in all that we do,” Capt. Clark continued. “We have challenges ahead.”
The forum was one in a series of panel discussions presented by the Leadership Institute at Harvard College.
Since the LIHC’s inception in 2004, the panels have examined leadership in career paths such as business, cooking, and the arts, said J. Craig Herron ’13, who served as the panel’s moderator.
But this panel was the first in the series to examine leadership in the military.
“We wanted to expose students to different kinds of public service, because we usually focus so much on business,” Herron said.
The panel was held in Emerson Hall.
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