Leadership Questions

Original post:  Thursday, January 1, 2009 Image

2 years ago (okay…now 4 years ago)… today I think.  One of the Masterminds sent an email to me while I was deployed and asked the questions below.  I was just looking through some old emails and came across it… Thought it was interesting…. love to get others thoughts.

I will try to be short (but you know that is impossible)… Please feel free to ask more

1.  What are the toughest aspects of your job?  By job…I assume you mean Sq/CC?  As a CC I would say the toughest is creating a vision and direction for folks to buy into in order to synergize the squadron towards a unified direction.  If this fails we only have people trying to build a niche or working without fully understanding the direction of the unit or their contribution to the mission.  I believe that what people really want is to contribute.  If people are contributing to the big picture (and they know the big picture) they feel they are of value and usually find a high level of job satisfaction…which in turn enables our folks to perform at optimum levels.

Next might be delivering on that vision… Now it is time for me (Sq/CC) to show our people that we can get there… So in a strategic way, the CC has to enable the vision…the MASTERMINDS will fight, kick, and claw to make it happen… But as the leader you need to point the way and lay out the path.  For us, many times that means working the bureaucracy that we have created in the military (much the same in corporate America)…I usually tend to get frustrated when we have to beat our heads against the wall when we hit road blocks…that many times are due to a lack of vision or research by others.

2.  What is the best part of your job? The people!  And I don’t want to sound cheesy… I mean that with all my heart and all my soul…. Rewarding folks for jobs well done…helping people work through issues… It may be personal, it may be professional, but there is nothing better than being able to mentor folks and see them achieve their full potential (officer, enlisted, civilian…it does not matter).

I also believe we should always be trying to create new leaders…seeing folks that rise up to that challenge and blow past anything you thought they could do… That is totally cool…

Oh…and I like the parking spot…

3.  What tips would you provide a young officer who has aspirations of being a future SQ/CC?  Think about it NOW!  What would you do if you were the Sq/CC…you don’t really have to even tell anyone (you can tell me, ask me why I did something, I should be able to clearly articulate why I chose to do something over another thing, you might not agree, but I should be able to tell you why…if not, I have failed)…just think about it, and watch…did the CC do that?  If not… Try to understand why?  In the end; did it work?  Would your concept have been better?

Sort of a watch and learn type thing.  Gen McNabb is great at mentoring… He would always look at me and say “what did you think of that?”  Many times I would tell him I disagree, or I did not like that… One time…I told him  “We just got our butts handed to us!” (good story happy to tell you about MY MISTAKES when I get back)  You know what?  I was wrong every time… And he never told me I was wrong, but in his own McNabb way… He said…watch, wait… See what happens… AWESOME LEARNING…Gen Bash would do that with me also… we would leave meeting at exercises/tsunami and he would say… what did you get from that?  Usually I was wrong until I figured out how he thought…the point is you have to be willing to accept instruction and mentoring.

So…start to look at leaders around you and find out what makes them tick… Does not matter if they are good or bad… In fact you will learn a ton from good leaders, but you will also learn a ton from poor leaders as well (we should talk when I get home on some lessons I have learned here).  Never assume that you GET IT…always try to learn more…never stop researching leadership styles…AND that does not imply changing who you are or your leadership style.  You have to be you… If you are not…folks will see right through it.  I have been blessed with all of you in the AMOS… I have no doubt that anyone that cares to know… knows my strengths, but also knows my weaknesses… And that is actually really cool, because you guys all fill in where in am weak… Ask Jodi, Amy, and Dave Watts… Working the front office it is probably clearer than anywhere else… They all know where I am going to forget things, and they all fill in for where I may drop stuff…

Totally cool. So admit where you are weak… People will respect you for it… And you don’t need to tell them where you are strong… They will figure that out on their own… Which leads to humility…you have to have it!

Finally… General Reno gave me this verse when I was going through the Sq/CC course… I now have it on a dog tag around my neck:  Micah 6:8

……..And what does the LORD require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Let that guide you… ACT JUSTLY, LOVE MERCY and WALK HUMBLY… I don’t think you can go wrong…

When I took command I said… a squadron really does not need a commander… it will always do the mission… we will still form an AMD, get to UFL, the COAC etc…in a flying unit… they will still generate sorties… a commander is really there to provide guidance and to make the job easier… so I would say as a commander you have to remember, it is not about you!  It is about your people and trying to make their job easier… so the unit can excel…

4.  In your career, what are the major showstoppers for killing a career without being forced out? Man… I don’t know… I have done some stupid things… See above… Telling the AMC/CC he is wrong???

I believe that mistakes are recoverable… If they are really mistakes and it was made while you were trying to do the right thing… I had a commander when I flew C-23s and he would always say…”did you learn anything?” and I would always say yes (indeed I did learn)… And he would smile and say “good.”  Showstoppers?  Perhaps if your career became all about you and what you want to do… In other words… You would not do what the USAF asked of you…i.e. no I will not take that assignment, because I don’t want to go there… And you know what, that is fine…but there is a price to pay for that.  And if you understand that when you make the choice…good…that was your decision… I fully expect that at sometime I will have to make that decision and I understand the ramifications of that.

There are the typical ones like PME… Yes you do have to get that done… But that is really a no brainer, I think you are looking for a slightly deeper answer.  I fully agree and support that the USAF will promote you to your level of incompetence… So I think we all hit that sooner or later… Well maybe the CSAF can avoid that…but if you learn your job, put your heart into it, try to do the best you can (honestly, not just lip service), the system should keep promoting you until the USAF feels you have topped out.  Of course we can talk OPR system to death…but leaders talk… And folks know if you have what it takes or if you do not…

Finally I would tell you… I have been working on this theory since I was a young Captain serving as now General Self’s Exec and later Gen Zamzow’s exec… So this is a bent DeMarco theory… There are really only 2 types of leaders, those that are about the “greater good” and those that are about “personal power.”

Greater good… meaning they are looking out for others, trying to make the USAF a better place to be, building leaders, and showing self sacrifice.  Personal Power… the all about me crowd, I want to get promoted, I want to be a general, I want everyone to know how smart I am….etc…Play with that a little and let me know what you think. The odd thing is both types can achieve greatness… But is those folks in their wake that either benefit or perish.  Many of the personal power types just look at the playing field and say… “what are the rules?”  Okay… I can do that and I will be great!  Try to figure out where you fall, Greater Good/Personal Power… Some may think they are both… But you really can’t be… It is one or the other.

I hope that helps… probably nothing too profound, but I am typing this as more a stream of consciousness than a research project… and soon as I hit send I am sure I will have 100 more ideas… but then we have a book, not what you are looking for… and I will work on that when I retire….

Thanks….if you ask others… I would love to see their thoughts… I don’t need names unless they don’t mind, I just like reading people’s thoughts on leadership.

Have a great New Year

J. William “Bill” DeMarco, LtCol, USAF

DIRMOBFOR Future Ops/Strategy

Combined Air Operations Center

15 Air Mobility Operations Squadron


“Pleasure is what nearly all cavalry training involves. It is the closest a man can get, as far as I know, to flying, and that is something people long to be able to do.”

  1. -Xenophon



Thanks.  Your responses lead me towards two more questions.   When you are developing your new vision for your organization what approach do you use to get buy-in at all levels?   And if it fails how do you reassess (any indicators) and try again? Thanks again.


:  These are a bit tougher…

When you are developing your new vision for your organization what approach do you use to get buy-in at all levels:  I have been waiting for that ah-ha moment on this one and it is not coming.  All I can tell you is you have to market and OVER communicate. What if it failed?  I imagine that would be situation dependent… but for me it was a conscious effort.

I was able to watch the AMOS for about 3 months after I knew I was coming over to the squadron.  I then wrote down my perceptions of the Sq from an outsiders point of view (totally understood my perception might be wrong, but it was a base line).  Next I developed a 100 day plan as I knew that when I got in the seat, I would be too busy to think about anything such as future thought or planning.  The MASTERMIND concept was not met initially with open arms and warm hearts… Even our old secretary thought it was “stupid.”  So I guess you have to give things a bit of time to see what happen… Here are some lines from my Change (assumption) of command speech and my follow-on initial email to the AMOS..

“The air is filled with change right now and probably will be for a good while, the exciting thing is we get to have a say in the future of Air Mobility. And Having a SAY in the future… brings me to … You/US, the 615 Air Mobility Operations Squadron are the recognized experts, the Masterminds of Mobility that is why you are here.

MASTERMIND: A highly intelligent person, especially one who plans and directs a complex or difficult project

– Someone who creates new things

– Someone who has exceptional intellectual ability and originality;

The word conjures up visions of Einstein, Mozart, Napoleon Bonaparte, George Washington, Robert E Lee, and George Patton… These men have had an enduring impact on the World…

I would tell you….

This squadron, the 615 AMOS, is going to develop the next generation of mobility thought, strategy, communications, planners, and leaders.

I believe you are here because you are the best and brightest AMC has to offer.  You have a unique skill set that has landed you here in the AMOS.

I am confident that you will meet all the challenges that we now face and those that will soon confront us. My job, or my measure of success, is did I make the 615 AMOS a good place to work, where people get up and enjoy what they do.

My job as your commander is to make your job better, to make you more efficient, and more effective.

If I do that, I know we will accomplish any mission we are called on to perform.

This calling of a Mobility Mastermind, is a blessing and a curse really, no one, the DoD, FEMA, the President of the USA, can go anywhere without you. So the blessing is everybody wants us, loves us and needs us, the curse is… everybody loves us, wants us and needs us……

Our country has never needed the 615 AMOS and her Mobility Masterminds… more than it does today…what we have…and are accomplishing in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, and most recently the Humanitarian Relief to South Asia in the wake of the devastating Tsunami… is unparalleled in the history of human conflict…that is…quite simply…a fact that cannot be disputed.  But to continue this effort…in the manner expected by the American people…the squadron has never needed each and every one of YOU more than it does today.  Just remember we are the MASTERMINDS OF MOBILITY!”

FIRST EMAIL to the AMOS ______________________________

Mighty 6-1-5:  Just a quick email to tell you it is indeed an honor to be your Commander, and to be among the Masterminds of Mobility here in the AMOS.  I look very forward to getting to know and work with each of you.  Of course I take command at a very busy time between deploying the TDC to the desert, the Core 9 (or is that 18), Tsunami relief in the far east, and the myriad of cats and dogs that plague any squadron in the USAF… training, conferences, leaves, etc.

This is a big time of change for the AMOG and of course the AMOS will not be immune to the winds of change.  There are two ways to look at

change: 1) hide and hope it does not find you, or 2) Run up to it, embrace it and try to guide it in the direction of your choosing.  In the case of the change we face I would recommend the later.  This is a time of ideas, and I ask each and every one of you to think through your piece of the AMOS and how to make it better… talk to co-workers, supervisors, flight commanders, DO, Shirt, Superintendent, and please bring them to me as well.  With the brain power in this squadron we should be able to shape the future… not be shaped by it.

Thanks for the great pin on, the great assumption of command ceremony…

and the awesome welcome you all have given me into the AMOS family.

All the best…


Lt Col DeMarco

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

-Ferris Bueller



So you can see it was something I laid out before I ever got to the squadron… I say it is situational because you might not have that opportunity… Which leads me to the comment earlier…think about it now!  You will be a Sq/CC… So think about it NOW…I have always said/felt… That if you have one problem to solve…you probably wont get it done…but if you have 10 and solve 2, that is pretty darn good… So you have to think about it now…develop issues that you see out there are ways to solve them… You might not get the chance now, but you will see it again… There is a great book out there by a guy named Kingdon http://www.amazon.com/Agendas-Alternatives-Policies-Longman-Classics/dp/0321121856

He talks about having concepts ready and waiting so when the window is open you can get it done… If you wait for the window it is too late…

A long way of saying think about it now.

At the Dining Out…I mentioned how lucky I was to work for some great leaders and mentors… That was not just me kissing Gen Zamzow’s butt…

I mean that… And just in looking at that piece of the change of command speech I can see influences from Gen Self, Gen McNabb and Gen Zamzow…I am not trying to copy them, but they have had an impact on what I believe a good (dare I say great…they are not me) leader should do.

Man… I have not even answered the question yet?  I guess… If you have the stuff above, the thought, the concepts, the research and it fails…

Re-group and try again.  I would tell you that the perception paper I wrote… 70% of what I thought was just a lack of understanding… So it is not always right, and you will not always be right…

So assessment… Things usually don’t happen as quick as I usually think they should… So I would say to rush these things, a culture change…

A vision, a direction would be a mistake… It did not happen as quick as I thought… RSOI 05, I was slightly impressed by the AMOS… But I would tell you, I saw so much more we could be doing… I wrote them down, threw them out there…got pushback… Corrected folks and their direction… And really RSOI 06 (a year later) we got to where I thought we could have been in RSOI 05…. Could we ever have achieved that in 05… Nope… I know that now, there were certain things that had to happen…read Collins “Good to Great.”


Tons of good stuff to answer many of your questions in there… Actually I think there are some notes on the AMOS web site from one of the leadership lunches… But it is getting the right people on the right bus and then getting the right people on the right seats on that bus…

That took a little bit of time…

I know I did not give you the easy, quick answer, but I don’t think there is one… I had instant buy-in from some key people… The shirt, Stank, Theisen, I brought Aupui with me when I took command… Todd Bangerter… These guys were all in there from day one… The help they gave me… Well… I will never really know… But they were huge in pushing the vision along from day one… So getting a few key folks to buy in early is key…

Okay… Back to work…let me know if you have more… And let me know your thoughts as well..

J. William “Bill” DeMarco, LtCol, USAF

DIRMOBFOR Future Ops/Strategy

Combined Air Operations Center

15 Air Mobility Operations Squadron


“To command is to serve, nothing more and nothing less.”

– Andre Malraux


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: