By Maj Marc Rittberg, USAF, MSC
Leadership is defined by Dictionary.com as “the position or function of a leader, a person who guides or directs a group.” There is a lot to be said about that statement. How does one measure leadership or account for leadership being performed? What does one need to do in order to lead, and more importantly, lead successfully? Within the Air Force Medical Service (AFMS), we encourage all ranks to lead, whether that be the two striper who is working in the radiology department or the full bird colonel who is performing open heart surgery. We encourage leadership early on in our programs. Enlisted members go to basic training for several weeks where they learn how to follow, and then lead. We send our commissioned officers to Reserve Officer Training Courses, the Air Force Academy, or Officer Training School to learn the basics. As our military personnel climb the ranks, the AFMS sends them to intermediate- and senior-level leadership schools to further hone their skills and gain practical experience from what they have learned. Personnel also learn what will and will not work and take that knowledge back out into the medical treatment facilities.
The AFMS has a whole Concept of Operations (CONOPS) titled Trusted Care CONOPS, which focuses on ideals of leadership through Highly Reliable Organization (HRO) practices, leadership engagement, and continuous process improvements. The AFMS Trusted Care CONOPS takes a deep-dive approach to identifying where breakdown in leadership can cause error, poor morale, and misinterpretation and go against the idea of zero harm. The CONOPS focuses on continuous process improvement at every level, from worker to leadership. No idea is a bad idea. To quote the AMFS CONOPS, “Leaders are foundational to an organization and central to any organizational transformation. Leadership is the keystone to Trusted Care.” (AFMS CONOPS, p. 24). Our medical treatment facilities teach mandatory classes to every rank and every occupational specialty on how to speak up as leaders and improve the organization. Our leadership from top down encourages leadership decisions at all levels. Examples in the MTF may include a young sergeant teaching a class on basic life support and fulfilling the roles of a clinic superintendent or perhaps a young airman working side by side with a specialty surgeon in the operating room and providing feedback on possible places where the surgeon could have reduced operating room time or closed a suture quicker.
Finally, the theory of servant-leadership is taught through various schools of thought within the AFMS. Servant-leadership is where the leader strives to serve other individuals or the organization first. In this leadership theory, a leader puts the organization as a whole before him or herself. A servant leader strives to strengthen the organization so as to achieve the ultimate goals or end results. An example of this may possibly be a flight commander who is truly taking an interest in his people during the holidays, leading with compassion. They will give time off but still accomplish the mission because they know that serving the individual will ultimately benefit the organization as a whole. Another example may be a charge nurse who works through lunch because he or she knows the subordinate nurses must take a break and will be hit hard by the influx of admissions in the afternoon.
Leadership in the AFMS is encouraged at all levels and in all specialties. Solid leadership by every member enhances the organization, echoes the priorities of management, and builds cohesive organizations where members can rely on one another.