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Document created: 1 June 07
Air & Space Power Journal - Summer 2007
Senior Leader Perspective
C. R. Anderegg
Gray in the muzzle and gimpy in the hips, I slowly walk to the rag rug next to the hearth where I turn in two tight circles, ease myself down, haunches first, and then stretch my front legs out, putting my chin on them. I’ve pulled all the sleds there are to pull. To all the places there are to pull them to, stretching from the wildest frontiers to the fanciest boomtowns. Two dogs, four dogs—even eight- and 12-dog teams. Straining at the harness until it cuts, paws filled with razors of ice, and breath huffing in huge clouds of steam. With my brothers’ shoulders brushing against mine, we have lunged and pulled together, and together we have felt the reward of nothing more complicated than brotherhood—the simplest of words and the hardest to achieve. I look up at you, fresh from your initial training and eager to make your first pull across the high passes, and I think, “I could tell you everything, but then where would be the fun in discovering for yourself?” But some of it I must tell you because I want you to be better than I.
Our world is harsh. A mistake can cost a life. Or even a whole team, tumbling as one into the maw of a crevasse, gone forever in the blink of an eye. And we neither get nor seek mercy from the cruel opponent against whom we struggle—the blinding white cold that is always hoping that we will slip. Yet we pull together, my brothers and sisters and I, and we take care of each other. It is the reward of our kind to feel unseen bonds of buddy love while we pull the load to the end of the track. And sometimes there is a pat on the head, but it is not the worldly rewards we seek. We pull because we are bred to it, and trained to it, and because an old man near the sea might have said, “It is a lovely thing to do.”
Although we struggle through blizzards and soaring mountain passes as a team, we depend on the leader. Our leader may not be the strongest or the swiftest or the smartest, but he or she has proved one thing over and over—we will follow.
As I lie here, feeling the fire’s warmth soothe the aches and ravages of a lifetime on the trail, I can reflect on the virtues—and the pitfalls—of being the leader. Things that you must learn, finally, on your own. But I can help you learn them more quickly if you will listen and understand the words of the old dog that has pulled from every position on the team and—yes, even a few times, a few glorious times—has lived the joy of pulling from the lead and getting the job done.
Before you can earn the respect to lead us, you must first be an excellent follower, and the excellent follower is always first: the first out of a warm bed, the first away from the breakfast bowl, the first ready to harness up, and the first to encourage the dog beside him or her. Most importantly, though, you must be the first to study. What is the meaning of the weather? The high clouds? The south wind and the north? How does the team pull on the soft snow? The wet? The ice? One must know our enemy, the cold, better than we know our own pack.
It is not enough, though, to be the first as a follower; you must also be the last. The last to complain. The last to sit down. The last to sleep. And always, always, the last to ask, “Why me?”
As you study, it is natural that you seek out the best teacher, and his name is Failure. We learn nothing from our successes. A short romp on a soft trail with a light load is quickly forgotten. Do you think I am a leader? Look at the scars on my face—the missing tip of my ear, gone to the single swipe of a vicious mother whose cub I bothered. This is not the face of success; this is the face of life, of lessons learned, and, alas, relearned. You will suffer these failures too. And each of them will make you stronger and able to pull longer and harder than ever. Until time catches up with you—and there’s no cure for that.
Along the way, though, continue to study. Make time to study. See how the Inuit’s dogs run, but the trapper’s are different—perhaps not as fast but with more stamina. While you pull as a follower, learn from them; learn from them all. You must study how the sled skids in the turn and how those in front, behind, and beside you react. Does your brother shy from the knife of the cold wind? Does your sister pull you off balance? There is precious little time to learn before you will be thrust into the front.
You will learn that there are different kinds of lead dogs. Some look at their team as a blessing, a team that can get the job done and done safely. Others look at the team as a burden, a group of ne’er-do-wells that need to be constantly nipped. But I don’t have time to think about the snarlers and nippers because their teams, sadly, fail when the stakes are high. I want you to know what I know before I curl up and sleep while you go out into the cutting wind.
As the lead dog, you must work the hardest. The house dogs think that the lead position is the easiest—that the traces in the rear must be the tautest while the lead dog needs only to “guide” the team, his harness loose and comfortable. This might work on a clear day over an easy trail, but not when the job is tough. Recall your days in the back, when every ounce of strength from the whole team was needed. A slacker is a liability; a leader who is a slacker could be a calamity.
As the lead dog, you must be the disciplinarian, even sometimes during the run—but the best time is later, away from the team. Remember that your goal is to improve behavior; a chastened dog will pull hard to regain his spot on the team, but a humiliated dog is ruined forever. Before you growl at the errant one, look first to yourself. Did you train the offender properly? Did you provide the right equipment? Almost all of us will pull ’til our hearts burst; if one does not, then it is more often the fault of training or equipment rather than attitude. But discipline when you must; no one else will do it because it is your job.
The character you build as a follower is the one that comes through as a leader when the trail is icy, the wind is brutal, and the sled is top-heavy. It is no time to be a loner, or sloppy, or shortsighted. Take heart from my experience: a leader can build character in the team. He or she need only show its members the benefits of hard work, courage, selflessness, devotion, and excellence, and to these things they will respond with their whole hearts.
You must know what you stand for before the trail becomes difficult. Do you believe in your man? In your team? Will you die in the traces for them? Ask these questions now because when the white bear circles your camp at night and then rushes in, a howling, slashing specter of evil, it is too late. You must be ready to fight in an instant or risk whimpering away with your tail between your legs.
I have saved for last the most important thing you must learn, and that is integrity. The leader is the first into the traces and the last out. The leader eats last and eats least. The leader treats every member of the team with meticulous fairness. The leader encourages affection for the team but never for himself or herself. The leader is honest, and this bears repeating—the leader is honest. More than any power the leader has, the leader is most judicious with the authority to lead the team into harm’s way.
Now you must go and lead the team while I rest. You have studied hard and learned much during your life as a follower. During the long winter nights, you have curled up close to the team and heard the telling and retelling of the stories of how our proud breed evolved into the best that anyone has ever seen. Your dreams have felt the agony of crossing the high passes and the joys of pups in the spring. Your history will make you wise, and your heritage will make you proud. Do not be afraid to fail. As the scars accumulate on your head, let them remind you of the difficult life you have chosen and the glorious battles it brought.
I trust you.
C. R. Anderegg(BA, Hobart College; MS, Troy University), a member of the Senior Executive Service, is the director, Air Force History and Museums Policies and Programs, Headquarters US Air Force, Washington, DC. Prior to assuming his current position, Mr. Anderegg was an air and space power strategist in Project Checkmate during the planning and execution of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. He served as an active duty Air Force officer for 30 years, commanding an F-15 squadron and twice serving as a fighter group commander and twice as a fighter wing vice-commander. A former F-4 Fighter Weapons School instructor pilot, he flew more than 3,700 hours in the F-4C/D/E/G and the F-15A/C/E, including 170 combat missions during the Vietnam War. Following his retirement from the Air Force at the rank of colonel, he wrote The Ash Warriors and Sierra Hotel: Flying Air Force Fighters in the Decade after Vietnam. Mr. Anderegg is a graduate of Squadron Officer School, Air Command and Staff College, and Air War College.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.