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 difficult . . . and sometimes very exasperating.
Over the past few months I’ve had numerous opportunities to work with different groups – student groups, faculty groups, non-profit groups. Each of the groups had different purposes, but they had similarities – they have tended to experience issues of leadership.
When individuals come together to form groups, the individuals inevitably have differing views on the most effective approach to solving the problem. The leaders face many challenges: What type of leader should they be? Direct? Passive? Collaborative? The leaders must understand the strengths and weaknesses of the team members to most effectively utilize the team members. Are they effectively utilizing their teams? Is the team focused on the objective? If not, how do they refocus the team?
Leaders need to be negotiators. They must be able to manage the interpersonal relationships as conflict will certainly arise. How do they resolve the conflict and without alienating members?
As we near the end of this semester, student teams have had increasing demands on their time and have had to prioritize their efforts. How do peers influence each other to remain true to the team and the objective? How can we use these opportunities to continue to develop our leaders?
In Real Leadership: Helping People and Organizations Face Their Toughest Challenges, Dean Williams describes real leadership as “fundamentally an interactive art, in which the leader is dancing with the context, the problem, the factions and the objective.” Leaders must understand these issues and be prepared to face them in order to continue to develop their teams.
This past week, we began to reflect on their learning – as leaders and as team members. I posed a number of questions for the team reflection – what were the most difficult aspects, the most valuable aspects, the least valuable, the “big” learning, and what could I do better as a coach?
The team leaders identified “being a leader” as the most difficult aspect because they are essentially leading their peers. This becomes an opportunity to practice their leadership and learn in order to continue to grow. The leaders have an opportunity to receive feedback from their team as to what they could have done better. They also have an opportunity to provide feedback to the team. The team has an opportunity to reflect on their role as members of the team and they might have better supported the leader and the team goals. Leaders should take the time for reflection as a team to continue to improve themselves and the team.
The teams identified group dynamics as the “big” learning. The teams experienced conflict and had to work through the issues. While they regularly work on group projects, students don’t always have the opportunity or time to reflect on the team dynamics. I feel it is important to take the time to reflect on the team. The reflection will allow the team to identify conflict points and may help them overcome or avoid those same issues in the future.
I regularly ask for feedback from students to ensure I am providing sufficient support to help them grow as leaders. I want to provide the most effective learning environment and provide the tools for the team to allow them all to grow as learners and leaders.
In the end, watching young men and women grow into leaders . . . that is the real reward!