Squadron Officer School’s new curriculum challenges students to know themselves first before they can lead Airmen to prevail in “great power competition.”
The new “LEAD to Prevail” curriculum begins with Leadership Experiences and Attribute Development. As the first of three phases, it uses students’ introspective discovery of who they are as individuals and as leaders as the foundation for the rest of the course.
“During the LEAD phase, students focus on the human domain, or ‘interpersonal skills’,” said Maj. Spenser Lee, SOS Strategic Outreach and Program Integration director. “It teaches them to be more vulnerable in their leadership style, which equips them to know themselves to lead themselves and to know their team to lead their team.”
In developing this part of the “LEAD to Prevail” curriculum, SOS faculty collaborated with faculty at Air University’s Leader Development Course for Squadron Command. The LDC, first offered in 2018, is for officers and civilian leaders tracking toward squadron command or civilian director positions and squadron enlisted superintendents. Fundamentally, LDC sharpens and focuses on the human domain leadership skills of these leaders.
Learning “people skills,” however, is not just for those tracking to lead a squadron of a few hundred Airmen. They are just as important to any leader no matter the level of leadership position or the number of people they are leading, and learning these skills earlier in their careers gives them time to refine them.
“Our LDC course targets squadron leaders one to three years from command. We do that so our graduates have time to develop and refine the concepts they studied with us,” said Lt. Col. Justin Longmire, LDC director. “However, how awesome would it be if future squadron leaders could be working on these concepts and skills for five to 10 years before taking command? How much more prepared will they be when they’re tapped on the shoulder and asked to take on the sacred burden of command? That’s the value in delivering this human domain content earlier in a leader’s career.”
In the second phase, Accelerating Change and Solving Problems Together, students apply the leadership competencies learned in the first phase to incorporate diverse perspectives to address a diverse range of complicated and complex challenges using multidisciplinary design approaches.
“In short, they take what they learned in the first phase and use those skills as a foundation to analyze complex organizational challenges,” said Capt. Tara Holmes, SOS Strategic Design Department director. “It’s about identifying the right problems and designing the right approaches for the right users, which requires empathy and understanding problems from multiple stakeholder perspectives.”
The culminating phase of the curriculum is Joint Warfare: Leading in Context. In this section, the curriculum covers topics such as airpower doctrine, international paradigms, instruments of national power and joint all-domain operations.
“Being an effective leader in this era of modern warfare requires leaders who know their people and their teams and who can trust and rely on them to solve complex challenges if we are to prevail in the great power competition,” said Capt. C. Dan Phillips, SOS Joint Warfare Department director.
This latest iteration of SOS is itself the product of a design process during which the faculty and staff were using the same principles to reimagine the program. While that effort began with new strategic guidance, such as the National Defense Strategy, “LEAD to Prevail” was also a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Col. Ricky Mills, SOS commandant, has drawn a clear connection between agility at SOS and the chief of staff of the Air Force’s message to “Accelerate Change or Lose.”
“We will continue to work to develop leaders our commanders need, leaders better equipped and better connected to keep our Air Force and Space Force the most dominant and respected in the world,” Mills said.