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An Attendee’s Perspective on the Enlisted Leadership Symposium

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Brian Hammell, Symposium Attendee
  • 108th Wing

The changing face and mission of the Air National Guard requires a change in the way we lead our people.

For 21st century Airmen, leadership cannot consist of the old static approach where noncommissioned and senior noncommissioned officers shout orders to those below; it requires a dynamic approach that focuses on attitude, emotional intelligence and empathy, giving Airmen the “why,” and maintaining a good work/life balance.

That’s the overall lesson I and several other 108th Wing participants learned from the 2017 ANG Enlisted Leadership Symposium recently held at Camp Dawson, West Virginia.

Hosted by Chief Master Sgt. Ronald C. Anderson, ANG command chief, the symposium covered topics ranging from principles of leadership and mentorship, to generational differences among Airmen, the importance of fitness, obeying standards, and resilience. All 54 states and territories sent representatives to the three-day event.

According to Chief Anderson and the many presenters at the symposium, 21st century Guard Airmen are the Airmen of today. They represent a force comprising four different generations: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z. The 21st Century Airman is adaptive, innovative, and resilient, according to Command Chief Anderson. They are technologically savvy, results driven  and adaptive to changing Guard missions. They are the most diverse, the most educated and the most innovative Airmen in history. These are the people who are both leading and being led today and we must ensure we are leading them, and communicating with them, properly to maximize each Airman’s potential.

Each day of the symposium we sat through several presentations from several state command chiefs and other highly accomplished enlisted Air National Guard members. The one thing that almost each presenter brought up was attitude.

“Attitude is everything,” one chief noted during his presentation on leadership lessons learned. Maintaining a positive attitude will set the tone for your organizationit can sink it or send it sky high. When the leader of organization presents a bad attitude it is infectious. However, a good attitude is equally infectious. Leaders who display positive attitudes not only see better attitudes from their people, the also see greater production from the group. 

Nevertheless, good leadership does not end with positive attitudes.

Having a high level of emotional intelligence and empathy are also hallmarks of good leadership, according to another presenter at the symposium. Emotional intelligence includes such qualities as emotional self-awareness, emotional self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skill. In order to lead and develop our people while maintaining a positive work environment, we must understand what it’s like to be in other people’s shoes. Leaders with high emotional intelligence and empathy have proven to be highly successful at motivating their people and increasing their organization’s output.

The event was not all work and no play. Chief Anderson also presided over a combat dining-in on the second evening of the symposium. Those who broke the presiding officer’s rules were sent to the traditional grog bowl and trash cans filled with water balloons and an arsenal of water guns provided fodder for each table as all-out war broke out among the states. 

The friendly rivalry demonstrated what most Guardsmen have come to know during their career: the Air National Guard is more than a team, it’s a family. For the 21st Century Guard, we must ensure we communicate with our people and also understand them. 

The 2017 Enlisted Leadership Symposium’s seal reads “Mission First, People Always.”  Many of the principles we learned at the 2017 ELS will help us live up to that philosophy.