A changing world requires adaptive leadership

  • Published
  • By Col. Jerry Lawson
  • 81st Inpatient Operations Squadron
As leaders in today's military, we are challenged with an ever-changing mix of attitudes, personalities and generational beliefs all found within our culturally-diverse young Airmen.

How does one approach such a diverse population with such varied and continually changing values and priorities?

The process of leading must adapt and change with our ever-evolving population.

As leaders, we may not yet have all the answers on how to best guide those placed in our charge. The Airmen of today have greatly differing perspectives on how a mission should be accomplished. The bottom line is we as leaders cannot ignore an evolving society that is rapidly forming around us. Nor can we disregard the factors and changing attitudes which will challenge us. We must adapt each day to keep a foothold on the missions ahead.

To set the stage for the challenges ahead, keep in mind that each generation has its own beliefs and attitudes.

Those in the "silent generation" are considered to be hard working, respect authority, put duty and work before fun and adhere to rules.

Baby boomers are considered workaholics, strive for personal fulfillment, value a quality product and question authority.

Members of Generation X are considered self-reliant, want structure and direction, are generally more skeptical and consider freedom their best reward.

Those in Generation Y are considered good at multitasking, are entrepreneurial, are goal-oriented and value a family and work balance.

Millennials are considered optimistic, realistic and individualistic, like to rewrite the rules and expect technology to be integrated into every aspect of their lives.

If you do not believe in the generational approach, just refer to the news and see the changing world. For example, a recent article observed, "A group of concerned educational leaders and a child psychologist were looking at the importance of changing the color of the ink that school teachers used to correct papers from red to blue. They felt that red ink was too negative and could possibly be affecting some children in a demeaning way which could cause negative long-term effects."

I am not saying that this group's opinion or findings are right or wrong, nor am I saying that a leader must accept every theory or belief that comes down the pike. What is important is the realization and acknowledgement that there is a group of individuals who may truly believe one thing is the right thing to do, based on their established value or perspective. We, as leaders, cannot ignore these facts or just dismiss them. We must deal with them and develop innovative ways to continue to provide guidance and direction for those in our care.

Looking at the styles of leadership, both past and present, we continue to learn and utilize many established techniques and develope our own toolkits to tackle our missions as they unfold. The point is we must also acknowledge change and evolution of society and the importance of personal perspectives. We must be able to develop new tools and techniques to adapt and mold our future Airmen as well as our future leaders to meet the ever-challenging world ahead of us.

We must be able to expand our thought process to capture every possible resource, both past and future, developing effective leadership styles with new and adaptive motivational tools meeting the mission as well as the needs of our Airmen. We have to evolve along with our military society and ensure that our future Airmen will be molded into the greatest warfighters in the world. These are the challenges we face and must embrace.