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REPOST: Coming in Second is Losing

Rinse and Repeat! This is a repost from a blog written 3 years ago by Jake Polumbo. A lot has changed in 3 years, but how you train your personnel is still as important if not even more important now than it was then. This is a good refreshing summary on how the US Air Force trains its top tier jet pilots and some simple takeaways for any leader in any field.

As you consider how to train your mid-level supervisors and emerging leaders to do better planning for growth and innovation, I’m reminded of the way the U.S. military trains officers to be problem solvers and ultimately leaders in the air, at sea and on the ground. The U.S. Air Force Weapons School in Nevada is recognized as one of the premier leadership programs anywhere in the world. This training is a 6-month, graduate-level course for mid-level officers including academic study, tactical planning and execution, plus healthy doses of leadership and character development to become the AF’s best instructors and future commanders. And what’s truly unique about this school is the HR department only recruits people who are already good at what they do so the Air Force can produce graduates who are the best leaders in the business. Our senior military Commanders expect some of the Nation’s hardest missions will be assigned to graduates who wear the Patch of the U.S. Air Force Weapons School.

The School’s curriculum stresses that graduates:

  • Emphasize their team’s strong points so they can quickly exploit their competitor’s weaknesses;

  • Recognize their own weaknesses - or capability gaps - and take decisive action to correct the shortfalls;

  • Discuss opportunities with their teammates and categorize the ones that will really make a difference;

  • Honestly assess the factors that can lead to mission failure, and then eliminate them.

Once planning for a mission is complete and the students transition to actual execution, they are taught to make regular assessments of the plan to see if it’s working. If it is - they’re trained to stay with it no matter how confusing the battle gets. If it’s not working - they must figure out quickly how to adjust on the fly. If the results are judged poor due to human errors, these leaders try to quickly determine why the mistakes happened and make adjustments. But there’s another reason the team’s results might be unacceptable. It could be their plan was flawed and if so, they’re taught to implement changes rapidly and avoid dwelling on missteps.

This iterative process is likely applicable to your business and may lead to better success and profitability. I’m reminded repeatedly that bad news doesn’t get better with time. Great leaders recognize problems as they develop, embrace them as their own, determine a fix, and quickly put the new plan in motion so their team can succeed. The key to graduating from the Weapons School is the student’s honest assessment of his/her team’s strengths and weaknesses, stacked up against the opportunities they see and the threats they’ll face.

One final look at the Air Force’s Weapons School showcases the ‘charge’ each graduate gets before they go back to the field. This guidance comes from the Commandant and is simple and compelling - and can be used in your own organization. Once the graduates are given the school’s Patch, they are expected to be humble, approachable and credible towards other members of the organization. Everyone in the U.S. military recognizes that the Patch on their uniform sets them apart from their peers. However, the distinction means it's even more important for the graduates to share the knowledge and experiences they’ve gained with others since less than one percent of Airmen ever attend this prestigious school. The only way our Air Force remains the best in the world is if each graduate shares what they learned with other members of the team. In this way, all of our Nation’s Airmen excel at their job. In this profession, coming in second is losing. We can learn a lot from these well-trained leaders.


Maj Gen "Jake" Polumbo (Ret.) is a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Weapons School. He, along with his brother Rob "Mumbles" Polumbo, graduated from the program during their military careers. Let Two Blue Aces assist you and your organization with developing the kind of leader you need to succeed in your business arena. Give us a call.


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