“OPAL” leadership

Col. Tracy Phillips
86th Air and Space Communications Group

Perfecting leadership skills is a challenge for everyone, independent
of rank. Every Air Force member is a leader and all of us can use a
little help every now and then. Over the years I have instilled a
simple formula for staying ahead of the power curve. I call it OPAL for
Observe, Prioritize, Anticipate and Listen.  

Any time you enter into a new situation, it is always wise to learn the
local customs. Figure out how things are done and why before offering
suggestions for change. Change is good, but you must educate yourself
first. This is especially important when living overseas and
interacting with people from a different culture. Pay close attention
to the people in leadership positions around you. How do they carry
themselves?  How do they respond to people and events?  Are
they warm and inviting or cold and distant? What kind of words and
phrases do they use to express themselves? How about dress and
appearance? Learn how they structure their day for success and what
type of personal battle rhythm helps them maintain the balance between
work, family and self. Carefully note the leadership styles that are
effective as well as those that are less effective and determine what
might work for you. However, don’t get caught in the trap of trying to
be just like someone else because it will never work. Your true
personality will always come through. Your task is to adopt a style
that works for you and your personality.    

Success at work often rests with your ability to prioritize tasks
correctly. I like to make a list of everything I have to do. I include
important bits of information such as:  What is the suspense?
tasked me? How much time do I need to accomplish it? Do I have to
personally do it or does the job rightfully belong to someone else?
Then, I set about determining what I need to do first − always taking
care of my boss’ requests first and making allowances for last minute
tasks that simply cannot wait. I get great personal satisfaction each
time I cross something off my list and so will you.  
Another secret to leadership success is to recognize that something
needs to be taken care of and taking care of it before being asked. It
is not unlike noticing that the garbage can is overflowing and emptying
it before being told to do so. Anticipation also requires a sort of
“what if” mentality attention to detail. For example, you know your
boss is scheduled to give a presentation on an important project you’ve
all been working on in a couple of days. What if she is sick that day?
What would you do? Would you be able to fill in for him or her? 

Listen:  You can learn a lot by simply listening.
Most people spend more time thinking about what they are going to say
next rather than listening to the person they are talking to. Next time
you are engaged in conversation, stay focused on the person’s face and
force yourself to concentrate on what they are saying. Think about what
they have said, then formulate your response. You will be surprised at
how well you are received and how much more of the conversation you

Leadership skills are no different than any other skill
in that the more you practice, the better you get.  So, use the
tenets of OPAL leadership and start improving your skills today.