Lessons in Leadership from the Greatest Combat Force the World has Ever Known

At many companies, onboarding can be monotonous and a real turnoff for new hires. You take a new hire on their first day. They are all excited about their new company and their new job. What do companies do? They crush all the spirit and energy a new hire has with stale briefings and the tedious process of onboarding. But it doesn’t have to be like that.

The story of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) gives outstanding lessons for companies today on excellence, leadership, and superior performance. SAC was older than the U.S. Air Force having been formed the year before the Air Force was created. The SAC motto was Peace Through Strength and they became the single most lethal combat fighting force the world has ever known, but SAC was not always that way.

General Curtiss LeMay was responsible for making SAC what it eventually became. When he took command in 1948, SAC conducted a night exercise and bombers from around the country had a hard time finding Dayton, Ohio in the dark. For a command responsible for nuclear weapons, anything less than 100% professionalism was unacceptable. So General LeMay proceeded to change SAC and the Air Force into the fighting force it eventually became.

Strategic Air Command insignia on aircraft at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

If there was such a thing as a revolutionary in the 50’s and 60’s, General LeMay may have been it. He broke traditions and stereotypes when it came to the well-being and the comfort of his men. He implemented things like special promotions, uniforms, and numerous other ways to recognize superior performance by his airman including both flight and ground crews alike.

So how can companies capture that spirit today? Well, they can start by making employees feel special without spending a ton of money from the first day they show up. Imagine walking into work the first day and being treated like you’ve just joined the greatest combat fighting force the world has ever known. Or the best food, or best widgets, or whatever it is you do.

Here are things you can do to capture that spirit from Day 1.

  1. Every New Hire has a ton of paperwork. Have all the paperwork assembled in a folder with their name on it? People like seeing their name.

  2. There are always a ton of briefings that New Hires must get. Imagine the briefings (which started on time), were checked for content and the people giving them had contagious enthusiasm about the company and the job.

  3. Have someone of authority sit through one of these sessions occasionally to see how they really went? We’ve had new hires that were told to “Be There Early” for an 8 am briefing only to have the briefer show up at 8:15 to open the doors. That sends a message.

  4. Have someone in authority welcome the New Hires and explain to them what they can expect in the future? Where will the company be? Where should they be? Why do they want to make a career at this company?

  5. Have a regular training schedule so the New Hires get the proper training? Don’t just stick them with some available Supervisor for On-the-Job Training (OJT). Too often OJT means taking an untrained Supervisor and sticking the New Hire with them. The Supervisor says, ”Listen! Stay behind me so you don’t get in the way and don’t hurt yourself.” That’s always impressive, NOT!

  6. At the end of the first week have a 5-10 minute chat with them to see how it’s going.

SAC used to have something called a First Team Briefing. Young officers were brought to the headquarters for a series of top-notch briefings. Then they were wined and dined with General officers. For some, it was the first time they had even met a General officer. That was one of the many ways that SAC maintained an elite, highly committed, motivated combat force capable of striking anywhere in the world with extreme lethality. And in doing so, they kept the peace.

For your company, you can’t wine and dine every New Hire, but imagine how the New Hires would react if they sat down at lunch with a senior member of management. Most employees have no idea who senior management is let alone being able to sit down and actually talk to them. Imagine if the briefings included plans for the company or important things that were going on in the company and the role they played in making that happen. Imagine if the new employees were treated with respect and enthusiasm rather than transient bodies that were here today and gone in six months.

In the 1970s there was a Soviet propaganda film out about SAC. In the film, the narrator said that 95% of all SAC crewmembers were psychopathic killers. In SAC, we knew it was propaganda and untrue because if it really had been SAC, then it would have been corrected to 100% and then allowed to happen. Anything less than 100% in SAC was unacceptable.

With the end of the Cold War, SAC was discontinued. But its lessons in excellence and leadership are applicable today. So, think of your company and how new employees can be brought onboard with enthusiasm and dedication to be 100% on target no matter what they are doing. If General LeMay could do it with a force responsible for nuclear weapons, think how much easier it will be for whatever product and/or service you are providing.

For more info contact Jack Evans – jackevans@www.maintenancebest.com

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