When you have more information than resources: a QA with U.S. Air Force Academy Leader

08/19/2019

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Written by Jonathan Allen

 

For U.S. Air Force Installation Commander Col. Shawn Campbell, decision-making in our day is about cleaving to critical information and matching resources to the most essential requirements. It’s not easy, but honest and open communication in an effort to uncover true priorities is critical.

Colonel Shawn Campbell is the former Installation Commander, 10th Air Base Wing, U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colo. The 10th Air Base Wing supports more than 4,000 cadets and a total military community of more than 25,000 personnel. He is responsible for a $150 million annual operating budget and serves as the Crisis Action Team Commander during all Air Force Academy installation contingency operations.

We were able to sit down with him and ask a few questions to get the scoop on some of the challenges leaders like him face, particularly in the areas of planning and resource allocation. His answers below were insightful.

Decision Lens: For those just moving into a new role like you, what types of prioritization best practices would be most meaningful for leaders to hear?

Col. Campbell: I think it starts with knowing what the key and critical demands of each position are coupled to and with the senior member’s priorities. The increasing speed and volume of information flow, even within what was once considered a common project, creates noise for the leader.

Being able to take the amount of information and/or data bombarding the leader through a distillation of some manner, drives focus on the next set of things to work or pursue.

What I mean here is, taking all the information that tends to bombard the person new to the position, and being able to sift through to the key elements where the leader then applies effort.

Simplicity is hard – call this order, prioritization, clarity – all the same end desire. To quickly cleave to the most important things without having to search for them.



Decision Lens: What are some of the most critical planning decisions Wing Commanders and other Air Force leaders must make in their respective roles?

Col. Campbell: What is the best way to take what resources we have and match to the requirements. The latter will almost always outstrip the former.

Therefore, knowing what the lines of effort and desired outcomes are, determining the resources, and clarifying what happens if those resources are not available or applied to an area, informs wing commanders about where the real risk(s) to mission lie AND what can actually be accomplished.

Other areas, more notably for wing commanders who are also installation commanders, as I was, are installation safety and security. There are also considerations for life/work balance, maintaining healthy team integrity and morale, and driving improved personal and professional performance, behaviors, and outcomes.

Leaders should be producing other leaders, not creating followers. All of these areas require time, energy, investment, overcoming inertia, and persistence.



Decision Lens: What are the greatest challenges, and possible weaknesses, you have seen leaders dealing with when it comes to prioritizing and planning?

Col. Campbell: Honest, open communication about what the more senior member’s priorities are and understanding the resource environment.

The focus should be on understanding the discrete – what lurks and lies in that percentage that is not compliant rather than simply patting ourselves on the back for meeting or exceeding Air Force goals.

I might need to use that next dollar or personnel resource on fixing those fire fighting vehicles ahead of the other in disrepair, even if those others remain unavailable for protracted periods. The risk has been assessed and a data-driven decision made because the right question(s) were asked.

Our Air Force loves stoplight charts – if we go yellow or red, our attention is high (as it should be) in those areas. A challenge to me is, driving into details when things are green because the aggregation might make the area line “green”, but within that [area] are [specific] problem areas that could have outsized negative impacts.

Once more, it is the volume of information and data that is a challenge.

In summary, leaders like Col. Campbell apply an important “goldilocks” principle: handle TOO MUCH information and TOO FEW resources by asking JUST THE RIGHT questions:

  • What are the key elements where I should apply effort?
  • What are the most important things to focus on?
  • What is the best way to take resources and match them to the most critical requirements?
  • What are the desired outcomes here?
  • What lurks and lies underneath the stoplight charts?

An important theme in all of these questions is the importance of understanding priorities and driving outcomes towards them.

Are you dealing with challenges in prioritizing the things that matter most? Check out a recent webinar we did:

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