Lawrence Hicks is a leader, author and pastor. He has led across a variety of organizations including church, nonprofit organizations and the United States Air Force, where he served for 25 years and retired in the rank of Colonel. He served various assignments across more than 30 countries including Turkey, South Korea, Thailand, Oman and Singapore. During his tour at The Pentagon in Washington D.C., Lawrence served on the Headquarters Air Force staff and managed a $14 billion portfolio for all Air Force weapons systems including the F-15, F-16 and F-22 fighter aircraft as well as the Air Force’s nuclear missile arsenal. As a group commander in Germany, he led over 1,200 Airmen in providing logistics support across Europe and throughout the Middle East. He also has extensive contingency and combat leadership experience as a veteran of both Operation ENDURING FREEDOM in Afghanistan and Operation IRAQI FREEDOM where he served in Baghdad. Lawrence is a graduate of Louisiana Tech University and holds a Masters degree in Public Administration from Webster University in St. Louis and a Master of Arts in Military Operational Art and Science from the Air Command & Staff College. He is also a published author with his most recent work entitled, “The Impact of Diversity upon Developing Expeditionary Aerospace Leaders: The IDEAL Model.” He and his wife, Liz, have three beautiful children, Brendan, Bryce and Marquina.
When and why did you join the Air Force?
I initially joined in 1988 as a Reserve Officer Training Corps (or ROTC) cadet. I had earned and was using an ROTC scholarship to pay for my undergraduate studies at Louisiana Tech University. As a cadet, I was part of the Air Force Reserve, so the 4 years I spent in college, I actually wore the uniform, attended Air Force training events and eventually was commissioned as an active duty Second Lieutenant in 1992. I was promoted to the rank of Colonel in 2014, after 22 years of active duty service. I served a total of 25 years, retiring in 2017.
Why did you want to become a leader?
I wanted to take care of people. That has been and still is my heart and my desire. I’ve never been a brilliant military tactician or a savvy strategist, but I have always drawn joy from taking care of people and then watching them take care of the mission.
Who paved the way for you and how?
Though there are many who paved the way for me; I would have to start with my grandfather, who was a Private First Class in the Army during WWII. He was one of the few African Americans who were deployed to the European theatre during the war. The military was not yet integrated, so he served in an all-black unit that served in Gen Patton’s forces in France, Belgium and Germany culminating with the Battle of the Bulge.
How did your leadership style evolve from the moment you were promoted to where you are today? What is your leadership style? Was there a specific thing that you were known for as a leader in the Air Force?
I loved growing older as a leader. Things became so much clearer because I could lean on previous leadership and life experiences. Not that leadership became easier, it just came more into focus, that which was right for me to do. My leadership style has always been personal and situational. I poured as much as I could into my subordinates in terms of encouragement and empowerment. Then, as I got to know them better and they got to know me better, from a personal standpoint, they were better able to make decisions for the unit and even on my behalf. I would like to think that I was known as a leader who took good care of the people. We got a lot of great mission stuff done and the mission accomplishment was satisfying, but my true legacy is with the people I served with.
How did you gain trust/commitment from your team?
I learned this from my wife and I quote her, “people respect you because of your rank/position. They trust you when they know you care.” So many times, no matter what level I was leading at — flight, squadron, group or wing — I had to earn the trust of people by showing that I cared not only for the mission of the unit, but even more so for the people.
What was/is the hardest part of being a leader?
The absolute hardest part of being a military leader is losing a team member. There is nothing that can prepare you for the shock, mental and emotional toll that a death of a teammate has on a unit. In the winter of 2010-2011, while deployed to Afghanistan, I experienced that in a profound way that shook me to the core. I was deputy chief of logistics in eastern Afghanistan for all coalition forces. We were responsible for the critical resupply of all the bases and forces in our area, which we would do by cargo plane, helicopter and most often by truck convoy. The truck convoys often came under enemy attack. On a particular mission on a particular day, one of our convoys came under attack and we sustained massive damage to the vehicles, but even worse, we lost two of our US Army soldiers. It was bad enough to lose two of America’s finest, a young man and a young woman, but when I saw the name of the young woman, I realized that she was not only the same age as my own daughter, but that they had been basketball teammates when they were in grade school. That was heartbreaking.
Have you ever been in a position where you didn’t know what the right call or decision was? If so, how did you navigate that?
- I looked to mentors to help me with making the best decision
- I asked my staff and subordinates for input
- I learned to trust my instincts; more often than not, they were right!
Have you ever had a subordinate disagree with your directive? How did you handle it?
Yes, that happened quite often. First of all, I welcomed disagreements or critiques. I tried to foster an environment where everyone felt free to express their opinion or even to “disagree with the boss.” I believe that that environment fostered critical thinking skills. Sometimes they would change my mind; sometimes I would change theirs. But in the end, no matter or not if we agreed, we did agree to move out in unity on whatever decision was made.
Number one thing all leaders should do and why:
Read daily. Oftentimes, it is the best way to learn and as leaders we should be continually learning.
Who is someone who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader?
My wife. She was the person who taught me how to take care of the whole (group of people) vs. sacrificing the well-being of the many. Thankfully she taught me that lesson so that I didn’t fall into the stereotypical “self-serving leader” mode or the bad habit of consistently neglecting the people and sacrificing your team at the “altar of mission.”
What do you believe is most important for developing the next generation of leaders?
As mentors, we have to understand the next generation to the best of our ability and we also have to realize and recognize that they will have very different environments and challenges than what we currently face.
What are you doing daily to ensure your growth and development continues as a leader?
What are you passionate about?
My faith, my family and my farm. In my previous military career this would have been Faith, Family and the Force. Now that I’m retired and have more time to raise cattle, I’ve settled back into this long-held passion and I definitely have much more time to spend with my family and my faith.