“Reinventing” the Command: General Janet Wolfenbarger’s ValuesBased Leadership Drives Change at the United States Air Force

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Publication Date:
May 12, 2016

Harvard Kennedy School

Due to proposed long-term cuts in the United States Department of Defense (DOD) , the DOD prioritized improving efficiencies, reducing overhead, and eliminating redundancies within its many commands. Accordingly, the Commander of Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC), the support command responsible for equipping the Air Force to keep it ready for war, assembled a small team, led by AFMC’s Vice Commander, Lieutenant General Janet Wolfenbarger, to examine their options. Her team proposed to reorganize the command to align with the Secretary of Defense’s efficiency mandate. Even so, Wolfenbarger anticipated opposition to the plan since it called for the elimination of seven of twelve AFMC centers-a move that would require support from the AFMC leadership, the Air Force, the DOD and Congress. Wolfenbarger knew she would need to draw on her lifetime of military leadership experience to accomplish her mission of successfully reorganizing AFMC. This case illustrates how a leader’s life experiences shape their values and principles and how those and professional values can influence a leadership and management challenge. The case is accompanied by a two-part video supplement featuring an in-depth interview with General Janet Wolfenbarger. Part 1 (9:35 min.) focuses on the values that shaped Gen. Wolfenbarger’s career early on, culminating when she became the first woman to achieve the rank of four-star general in the U.S. Air Force. Part 2 (15:47 min.) includes six short segments where Gen. Wolfenbarger talks about the specific leadership and implementation strategies she used to bring about the reorganization of the Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC), and shares insights about challenges and lessons learned.

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“Reinventing” the Command: General Janet Wolfenbarger’s Values-Based Leadership Drives Change at the United States Air Force

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