For those of you who have not read the series of interviews that have recently appeared on the Army Leader website should head over there now and pay them the attention they deserve. They feature some very impressive senior leaders from that Service who come across as open, honest and inspirational people; human beings if you will.
I may have missed it, but I am struggling to find an equivalent for my own Service. I have seen official Twitter feeds that celebrate the graduation of officers, airmen and airwomen or applaud the achievements of our forces deployed on operations. All of this is engagement is entirely appropriate and welcome, but it is also very very official – where is the human face? Has it been masked by Media Communications and Engagement? This is not a case of being out-manoeuvred or outdone by the Army, this is about using every tool the RAF has in its corporate comms tool box to inspire and enthuse. Fourteen years ago, Delia Smith issued a challenge to the fans of Norwich City when she asked: ‘Where are you? Where are you?’ I feel it is time to issue a similar challenge to the senior leaders of the RAF.
Recruitment for the Service is going well; retention is a challenge. We are always being told that our people are our greatest asset, yet we fail to employ ‘the stars’ who sit at the top of the tree. The people who have been there and got the t-shirt. When you are looking for levers to pull, why not use what should be your strongest suite – the people in charge?
In 2018, a Colonel ‘Ned Stark’ wrote several articles criticising the United States Air Force’s promotion, selection and assessment processes. ‘Stark’ was a serving Air Force Officer when the articles were written (and may well still be for that matter). The pseudonym was given to the author for their own protection by the website that published the articles. There is a lot of sense in what Stark says. His article ‘Wanted: Leaders we can believe in’ raises some interesting points that I believe the RAF should take notice of, but they lie outside the scope of this article. The ‘believe in’ bit is, however, important. What we seem to lack is a more ‘human’ face from our seniors that engages openly and honestly with the matters of the moment or talks about the challenges and hurdles that they have met and overcome. They could even discuss occasions where they haven’t succeeded or where their moral and physical courage has been tested to the limit and perhaps beyond. All human beings enjoy a good story; they are memorable, they travel great distances and they inspire.
Just to close the Stark loop, you will note that the reference to his article is from the Air Force Times. His own Air Force Chief of Staff, General Goldfein replied soon after using the War on the Rocks website as his medium. This enviable level of interaction speaks volumes as to what can be achieved outside the ‘corporate comms’ bubble. I can’t imagine this level of engagement taking place in my own Service, which is a shame. 1 not just the USAF that have some skin in the game; Cdre James Parkin’s recent and useful intervention on a rather ‘skewed’ Twitter debate about CIWS on HMS Queen Elizabeth and Wg Cdr Scott William’s January 2019 Hush Kit interview both strike me of excellent examples of how and when to engage.[
We don’t need to re-invent the wheel when it comes to engagement, we already have a string of RAF accounts that do a good job at the day to day and in many instances you get the sense that behind the ‘official’ facia, there is a personality waiting to break out. This does not have to be a social media revolution; I am not suggesting we replace JSP101 with a series of emojis and hashtags but if Multi Domain Operations are the new ‘thing’, then so should Multi Domain Engagement. The Service needs to engage on all fronts if the RAF is to build on the success of RAF100 and this needs to be done across as many platforms as possible. Ultimately leadership is a contact sport and it should not sit behind a corporate firewall – in the words of Saint Delia: ‘Let’s be avin ya!’2
Phil has over a decade of military experience, on and off operations, in single service and joint environments.
- I would also recommend General Golfein’s podcast from War on the Rocks which can be found here: https://warontherocks.com/2018/08/wotr-podcast-a-chat-with-the-chief-gen-david-goldfein-on-the-people-and-future-of-the-u-s-air-force/