Jeffery Kaczmarczyk is a Lieutenant Colonel at the United States Air Force Academy and faculty advisor on the Quad’s Colorado Springs Utilities Project.
The views expressed are the author’s alone and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Air Force Academy, the U.S. Air Force, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
Leadership is coaching; leadership is developing others. Leaders have the opportunity to shape the future through their coaching and the development journey as they interact with their teams and individuals. Whether in the classroom, coaching swimming, or working with teams, I’ve tried making one goal clear – “my job is to make you not need me”; I need to become irrelevant (*irrelevant in that they no longer need us and have become successful leaders). When students take responsibility for their learning, when the swimmers are able to correct issues with their swimming strokes, and when teams are able to work through interpersonal issues or solve the problems with the tools we’ve provided, we’ve achieved success as leaders. If we’ve done our jobs properly, we will have provided our teams the tools they need to develop and grow successfully as leaders or teammates – and more importantly, have the skills and tools to coach, develop, and grow more future leaders.
In working with the Quad Innovation Partnership on the Colorado Springs Utilities Team, we had to overcome an issue with the team – their biases. One aspect of our project was examining different fuel types and power generating technologies. We had a predilection toward a specific fuel type. To ensure we were objectively analyzing the data we researched, we needed a few tools to help approach the problem. Otherwise, our confirmation biases – the tendency to search for and focus on information that confirms one’s preconceptions – could impact our analysis. The team members with the most obvious biases had the most difficult task – research and report why coal is the fuel source of the future and research and report why solar is not the fuel source of the future (my Grandfathers had been coal miners to coal HAD to be the future!). We had to assess multiple points of view in order to provide an objective analysis. In Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction by Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner, the authors use the metaphor of a dragonfly which has thousands of lenses providing massive amounts of data to aggregate and process. For humans, “aggregation doesn’t come to us naturally” and we tend to accept our beliefs and don’t explore alternative perspectives. We need to make a conscious effort to look at other views. Doing so allows us to ensure we are more objective in our analysis.
Because thinking is hard – and quite complex at times – we discussed how we could use Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats approach. The different colored hats allow for the visualization as related the function – white hat (be objective, focus on the facts), red hat (emotional view), black hat (serious, points out weaknesses of ideas, what’s bad about it?), yellow hat (optimistic, positive thinking, what’s good about it?), green hat (creativity, new ideas), and blue hat (organization, control of the process). Utilizing the Six Thinking Hats, we focus on one thing at a time – focus on information (white hat) or search for new ideas (green hat) or point out our errors (black hat). We can focus the team from a particular angle and each team member can engage in parallel thinking – we look at the same problem from the same point of view (hat) for a set amount of time and then move to another point of view (hat) to ensure a fairly comprehensive assessment of the data.
Relinquishing leadership is challenging. We like to be in the leadership role. If our responsibility as leaders is to prepare future leaders, we must ensure we’re properly coaching and providing toolsets for them. Metacognition tools are invaluable to leaders to ensure issues are addressed in an unbiased and objective manner. If we’ve coached them, developed them, provided tools, watched them grow and we’ve become irrelevant, to me, that’s success.