Last week my boss was relieved of command. He makes the fourth leader at my level or above who has been prematurely removed from authority since I took command 19 months ago. Every one of the class of leaders I came in with has now departed early and under a cloud. I feel very much like the last guy with his torch still burning in a game of "Survivor"--except there's no million dollar prize.
Those of us who are selected for command generally feel honored and privileged, but also confident that we have the leadership talent to succeed. However, we serve at the pleasure of our superiors, and if we lose their confidence the "hook" can come quickly. What's more, military units are large and diverse, and at any given time there is bound to be some activity going on which, if manifest, can reflect badly on the leader. Too many of these at once can result in such a "loss of confidence".
If the leader is able to build up a track record of success, he can explain the bad news in the context of the good. However, with the leaders above him constantly rotating as well, the need to re-prove his worth is a constant battle. I experienced this last year about this time, when a series of incidents reflected poorly on my unit and my new wing commander was clearly very concerned about what was occurring in the Honor Guard. Fortunately I was given the time and opportunity to prove that not every cluster of negatives is a "trend", and his confidence grew over time.
The team above me now is again almost entirely new, and I cannot assure them that there will not be some other negative news coming out of my squadron at any time. That is the nature of things ... there are 270 Airmen in my unit, 80% of whom are very young, having come to me directly from Basic Training. Though they are hand-picked for this assignment, their selection was based on a very minimal track record and some number of them will get in trouble ... a few in very visible ways. Tomorrow may well surface some new devilry.
I have learned many lessons about this over the years, but one of the simplest and yet most profound came from a friend of mine when I was a 20-year-old Airman at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. I'd wanted very much to become a "green rope", which Air Force enlisted members will recognize as a student leadership position. It was a small step in a big world, but at that point in life it seemed very important. When I talked to my friend about it, he saw my anxiety over the selection process and asked very simply: "Doesn't God choose the leaders?"
As I said, a very simple question, but hardly simplistic, and I have never forgotten it. I serve at the pleasure of the Air Force, but even more so, I serve at the pleasure of the Lord. By His help and according to His will, I will see this mission to the end and stand upon the Ceremonial Lawn this summer to hand the flag to my successor as a celebration of a successful 2-year command assignment.
If for any reason I do not, however, I will yet trust and praise Him, for His ways are good.