Air Force Commander Harris Big on Empowerment
By Jennifer Willis
“There’s no way one person can do it all.”
That was the theme of Thursday’s talk by Brig. Gen. Jerry D. Harris Jr., the guest speaker at this month’s CEO Lecture Series put on by GCU in partnership with AZ Business magazine.
As commander of the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base, Harris’ job is to train F-16 pilots and maintainers while deploying mission-ready warfighters for the largest fighter wing in the U.S. Air Force.While the end goals of a military base might not be the same as a corporation, the structure and organization share some amazing similarities.
“I would not expect a CEO of a company to be able to do every single person’s job in the organization, and the same is true for me,” Harris said to an Ethington Theatre audience.
“I can’t drive a bulldozer, and you definitely don’t want me to operate on you. It is my job to employ the people that can do these things better than I can, and then empower them to do it. By doing so, nine out of ten times they will come back with a product better than I expected because they were entrusted to do so.”
Harris emphasized not hiring clones and the need, as a CEO, to surround yourself with diverse people who can bring different ideas and skills to the table.
He also spoke about the chain-of-command pyramid and how leadership starts at the top.
“We need to lead by example,” Harris said. “I’m looking for leaders that can motivate and mentor those below them. Because of this, the pyramid is often flipped upside down, with the small part at the bottom. I can take the time off to be here today and my organization is still running because I’ve empowered those below me to be able to take charge and get the job done. I support them, instead of them supporting me.”
Harris mentioned leadership challenges such as retention and keeping employees engaged and on top of things. He stressed cross training and constantly giving employees the opportunity to learn and grow within the organization.
“There will come a time when I am not needed in the Air Force anymore, and I will need to be able to step aside and be proud of what I accomplished,” Harris said. “I tell this to new recruits all the time. Education and training should be continuous. They need to constantly learn new skills so that when their time comes, they are able to step back into the civilian world and succeed.”
Reach Jennifer Willis at 639.7383 or Jennifer.firstname.lastname@example.org.