Experiential Learning Blog: Leadership Interview — Military Style

Pictured above is SSgt Le while mid-thought answering questions for the interview.

Recently, I met up with a close friend of mine, Alex Le, that I believe is a great leader. He is currently active duty in the United States Air Force. Within the last year, he was given the opportunity to attend the leadership school for USAF and has ranked up to a supervisory position (Staff Sergeant or SSgt) in which he has a team to observe and lead. I chose SSgt Le as a a leader for this interview because I know he has a lot of good qualities as a leader and have been able to apply it in his job.

SSgt Le’s currently position is in law enforcement at the emergency controller command post which includes sending squad cars to emergency locations. His duties as a leader includes supervising and upholding the standards of the Air Force to the Junior members of the USAF. In the interview, he explained some of his responsibilities as a leader to his team is to make sure his team is meeting standards for duty positions. This includes helping his team study information for their positions, be prepared for the tests, provide upgrade training, and mentor them in their jobs, education and occasionally give advice in their personal lives (this also includes areas of personal finance, how to buy a car etc.)

More than half of his duties and leadership interactions is online. His job/work hours are not regular and often not concurrent with his team; he mentioned that there are times in which he only sees his team just a few times during the week. Most of his interactions with his team is either through the virtual world or through the phone. He finds the skills of being able to lead online is valuable because “online space is open at al times, whereas office time is limited.” He often utilizes the online environment to send emails and communication to his leadership as well as his team. He finds it extremely efficient to send mass messages to inform everyone to bring everyone up to speed on current tasks and issues. For some projects, he utilizes the virtual world to bring everyone a basis for what the task is as well as initiating projects. Then, he would call for a meeting so that the work can be discussed and divided, as well as answering any questions.

SSgt Le says that the virtual world is excellent when it comes to a lot of areas for leadership and collaboration but there are downsides to it. In the military, it is the responsibility of the leader to look out for their teams not only in the professional/work aspect, but as well as real-life in terms of mentoring their teammates. Before ending the interview, I asked SSgt Le to give me his biggest advice to people regarding leadership and working with teams through the virtual world. His advice was to “get comfortable in using the tools and technology that makes it easier for you to lead online” as well as always leaving inviting feedback from the message recipients.

From this interview, I was able to see the theories and points on leadership from a textbook come to life in a real job. SSgt Le had pointed out that leadership is a lot of things. Like in the textbook, leadership is: a trait, an ability, a skill, a behavior, a relationship, and an influence process. SSgt Le spoke about how his leadership includes getting to know his team’s strength and weaknesses (a relationship) as well as something that he has had to train himself on and acquire through his training in the Airman Leadership School. He also talked how he had developed as a leader in order to effectively and efficiently lead others, that it wasn’t something he was given overnight. From the interview and the stories that he had told me, I was able to identify his leadership style in the military, servant leadership.

As a leader, I want to inspire a team to do the best and be the greatest. After this interview, I’ve found that not all teams are made equally and not all teams will be the same in order to be effective for the type of profession. I’ve also become more knowledgeable about some tips and tricks of how to be an effective manager/leader to my team from the advice that SSgt Le had given me.

Full disclosure, other than my interview with Staff Sergeant Le, I have not had a lot of experience nor understanding regarding the leadership styles or types of leadership required of Active Duty Airmen. So, this blog post may not include all experiences of all leaders but this interview does highlight some important general information regarding leadership in the Military.