The Air Force expects every Airman to be a leader, and every Airman who steps up to lead has the potential to impact the Air Force for better or worse. One 86th Force Support Squadron Airman Leadership School instructor reflected on an element of leadership that leaves a positive impact: understanding people as individuals.
Annually, an average of 595 students complete ALS on Kapaun Air Station. The students hold the rank of senior airman and are preparing to be staff sergeants. The Air Force prepares them to take on bigger responsibilities in the mission to defend their nation. Among other responsibilities, that means leading junior Airmen.
“My goal is to help foster an environment where Airmen feel comfortable treating people with respect, while still upholding the Air Force core values and standards,” said Staff Sgt. Ashely Peterson. “One of the main things we’re doing is basically reminding them how to treat people. The golden rule is to treat people the way you would want to be treated, but the platinum rule is treat them the way they would want to be treated.”
As an instructor, Peterson comes in contact with Airmen from across the Air Force and is often reminded of the diversity in its ranks. Yet, challenges accompany the rewards that come from diversity.
“There’s so many different personalities in my classes,” Peterson said. “My goal is to make sure that everyone is understanding the information, and I’ve gotten pretty good feedback on it.”
To reach her students effectively, Peterson uses the same leadership principles she teaches her students. She said she looks at them as individuals and tries to apply every ALS concept to them specifically.
“Everyone is going to use the information differently,” Peterson said. “I can put it into perspective for individuals, whether they’re maintenance, medical or otherwise, so that they see why it’s important. I can help them value it. I can show them why they have to sweep the streets or dig the ditch or fix the airplane and explain to them how this effects the big Air Force picture.”
Another leadership element Peterson displays is adjusting her teaching style to suit a diverse audience.
“Some people are introverted; some are extroverted,” Peterson said. “People interpret things differently.”
Peterson said that because some students are quiet in the classroom, she learned to read their nonverbal cues to make sure they were keeping up with the information and staying involved in the class. That can be a challenge.
“Sometimes understanding quieter people is hard for me because I’m a pretty vibrant person,” Peterson said. “That can turn some people off, so I have to remember to tone myself down a little while not letting those more similar to my personality lose interest. I’ve learned to find a happy medium.”
Peterson feels the challenges she overcomes with Airmen are well worth the effort.
“Our Airmen are really important,” Peterson said. “They’re going to be leading the Air Force in the future. They’re the glue that holds so much together.”
One of the leaders Peterson trained is Senior Airman Antigany Temple, 435th Contingency Response Group Current Operations unit security manager.
“I learned quite a bit in the few weeks I had with Staff Sgt. Peterson in ALS,” Temple said. “I went in thinking there was one approach to leadership, and I left knowing there are multiple ways to approach a situation as a leader. Every individual learns differently and reacts to situations differently, and as a leader, one has to be attuned to those differences. The lessons I learned from Staff Sgt. Peterson in ALS will absolutely be beneficial as I move into a noncommissioned officer role.”
Peterson feels that sending newly empowered staff sergeants into the Air Force is a big responsibility. Sometimes turning Airmen into leaders means giving them a new perspective. Airmen come to ALS from across the Air Force and from a variety of viewpoints.
As an example of changing perspectives, Peterson talked about developing students’ concept of discipline. Understanding discipline as a concept is part of understanding how to handle corrective measures, such as nonjudicial punishment.
“Students can have a tendency to think of discipline as a negative action rather than a quality people have,” Peterson said. “For example, an athlete has discipline.”
Peterson said that not everyone shows some kind of change by the end of the course, but many do.
“For the most part, there’s at least a little lightbulb that goes off in them,” Peterson said. “When I see them around base and ask them how’s it going and how they’re doing as supervisors, their responses really make this job