Leadership and Parenthood

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Have you ever been with a supervisor and heard these words, “Let me tell you what the kids at work did today?” Most know the “kids at work” refers to the leader’s subordinates. Why do we call them kids instead of Airmen or some other general term? I think one of the reasons is because much like parents, leaders love their people and are always looking to take care of them.

I am the lucky father of two beautiful, funny and rambunctious boys. On most weeknights and weekends, I can be found coaching their soccer games, helping them beat a level in a video game or even showing them the perfect cannon ball at the local pool. I love being with them and experiencing their lives but sometimes I find myself having to be the bad guy. On occasion, I have had to discipline them for their actions or behaviors. If left unchecked, the unwanted behavior will continue or escalate. At the end of the day, we must be parents; no matter how much children plead or cry, we have to be the disciplinarians. We don’t do this because we are mean or that we need to maintain order, but because we love them and want them to be safe and do great things.

The more I am around great leaders, I realize leadership is identical to parenthood. As the operations officer of the 2d Space Warning Squadron, I directly report on five officers and oversee the actions of over 200 operators, from the youngest Airman and lieutenant to the seasoned senior master sergeant and major.

I love talking to the staff sergeants about their futures and career progression and I enjoy writing recommendation letters for my sharp senior airmen who are trying to get picked up for prestigious jobs. However, the other side of leadership, the harder side, deals with punishments and sometimes subordinates need to be disciplined for their actions or behaviors. Whether punishing a member for getting a DUI or taking part in an unprofessional relationship, the leader must take action or else the unwanted behavior will continue or escalate. It is not because the leader is mean or doesn’t understand. It is because the leader wants the member to succeed and be great at the jobs they have undertaken.

All leaders want what is best for their followers, whether that is into battle in some far-away land or onto an operations floor in Colorado. Parents are the same way. We all want our kids to grow up and be whatever they want to be. In the end, leaders and parents cannot always be friends to their subordinates or children. They have to lead them and take care of them, even if that means they are the bad guy just for a little while.