Sunday, June 22, 2008

Heir Quality

The Air Force recently picked a new leader. The title of Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force now rests with a (shutter) CARGO PILOT like the ones who fly the aircraft above! Read some of the extracts from Max Boot's article in the New York Times below:

June 16, 2008
Op-Ed Contributor
The Heir Up There

THE appointment of Gen. Norton A. Schwartz as the chief of staff of the Air Force last week is a historic first, one that could serve as inspiration for people who share his underprivileged background. General Schwartz is, you see, a cargo pilot.

He started his career flying a C-130, the main transport aircraft of the Air Force, and he took part in the airlift of American personnel out of Saigon in 1975. He comes to his new job from a stint as the commander of the Pentagon’s Transportation Command, and he has also been the deputy commander of the Special Operations Command. His résumé may not raise eyebrows outside the Air Force, but among blue suits it is unique for a chief of staff. Flying fighter jets has been the formative experience of every chief of staff for the past quarter-century.

When the Air Force was created as a separate service in 1947, it was dominated by bomber pilots in the mold of the legendary Curtis LeMay. The bomber barons ruled until Gen. Charles Gabriel, a fighter pilot who had shot down two MiG-15s in the Korean War, became chief of staff in 1982. Since then, the fighter mafia has been in control.

The new chief comes from an occupation — transportation — that is as unglamorous as military jobs get. But its importance cannot be overstated. Some of the most valuable assets in the armed forces are cargo planes and aerial refueling aircraft. We have about 2,000 of them, far more than any other country, but most are getting old (the original model of the C-130 was introduced in 1956), and the Air Force has struggled to replace them.

With an officer whose background is in transportation and special operations chosen to head the entire Air Force, a cultural revolution is well under way. Fighter planes and their pilots will not loom as large in the future as they have in the recent past.

Some years down the road lies an even more radical transition. The day will surely come when the Air Force chief of staff won’t be a pilot at all. The service now operates in outer space and in cyberspace. Experts in those areas are rising through the ranks. But it will probably take many years, and another wrenching transition, before a non-pilot rises to the top.


Picking a leader is never easy. But nothing is more discouraging to the rank and file than the belief that if they lack certain pedigree (the right university, the right jobs, they don't know the right people), they can forget about advancement. This is a natural tendency in picking new leaders -- we too often default to select people that look like us. In the military, Academy graduates tend to think more highly of fellow grads. In the Air Force, jet fighters likely think that the best leaders come out of their own ranks. In business, we look for the best schools or previous jobs at the right companies.

The reality is quite different. Great leaders come from all corners. What should matter is performance and proven leadership capabilities. When our teammates believe this, they will fight to prove themselves every day.

Think about this the next time you are picking "Heirs." Are you selecting based on the past...or are you looking ahead to the future? Which is more important...quantity of degrees or quality of the degree holder? Are you suppressing the potential of the bulk of your organization because of your bent toward a chosen few?

Sounds like the Air Force is looking ahead and selecting for "Heir Quality." That's Leader Business.

Max Boot, a senior fellow in national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, is the author of “War Made New: Weapons, Warriors and the Making of the Modern World.”

Thanks to Suzanne for sending me this article!

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