Air Force cadets learn to lead, even in failure

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    One of the goals of TCU Air Force ROTC (AFROTC) is teaching cadets how to become better leaders, which often involves learning from their mistakes.

    AFROTC offers the opportunity to obtain different kinds of leadership experience, from training and mentoring younger cadets to assigning roles and responsibilities within the cadet wing. As cadets progress through the program, they become responsible for more people and duties, said AFROTC Director of Operations Maj. Kenneth Edwards.

    The gradual addition of responsibilities helps cadets prepare for their roles as commissioned officers in the Air Force upon graduation, he said, even if it means failing a few times along the way.

    Edwards said the program is designed to allow cadets to make their own mistakes and learn from them before they move on to active duty.

    “This is a training ground, so fail away,” he said. “We’re more interested in what you do when you fail.”

    The organizational structure of the program is intended to provide these opportunities for growth. For instance, senior and junior cadets are responsible for planning the weekly training exercises for the younger cadets.

    The older cadets bring their plan to Edwards each week, and he said he will approve it as long as it is not “illegal, unsafe or immoral.” He said at times he will sign off on a plan even though he may know that it is not going to work.

    “But I’ll approve it,” he said, “because if I stop you from executing a bad plan, what you learn is, ‘Oh, Major Edwards will stop us from executing a bad plan.’ You don’t learn how bad that plan really was and then adjust from it.”

    The cadets meet every week to evaluate the efficacy of their plans and assess potential areas for improvement. Senior Joe Phillips, the cadet wing commander, is responsible for appointing cadets to leadership roles.

    “The first thing that I do is I take all of the people that we have that are in the cadet wing [and] I put them in a job,” Phillips said. “I put responsibilities with that job. And we basically cover our whole mission with all those people.”

    Edwards helps guide Phillips in the process of assigning roles. Edwards said giving cadets those duties helps them understand what it will take to lead and be responsible for people later as a commissioned officer.

    Phillips said one good thing about AFROTC is that it develops different leadership styles. The Air Force attracts people with a diverse set of interests and skills, he said, making it a unique work environment.

    “You see a lot people here that are cyber warriors,” he said. “They’re amazing on their computers. A lot of people are here who are master organizers. And then you also have your guys who are going for special ops, who are in great shape – just absolute front line warriors. So you kind of get the whole gambit of people.”

    Such a wide range of personalities requires the development of many different styles of leadership. Senior Tyler Hoff, a flight trainer for the sophomore cadets, said going through the program has shown him how people respond to various leadership strategies.

    “You learn different ways to lead,” Hoff said. “You learn that one leadership style is not going to fit every person that you’re trying to lead; you’re going to have to change your leadership styles.”

    Hoff said he has always been a “very forward leader,” but recognized through his involvement in AFROTC that such an approach does not always work.

    That variability is why the program does not force cadets into a specific style, instead seeking to identify and develop the talents and personality of each individual, Edwards said. This method emphasizes that learning from mistakes is a valuable skill, and one cadets will need to utilize throughout their careers.

    “You can make it through this four-year program and not be done [developing as a leader],” Edwards said. “But none of them are done…you are going to continue to adjust your leadership style.”