YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- It is a simple word to describe a powerful human trait or action; the ability to influence or guide a group of people to complete an act greater than themselves: leadership.
Tech. Sgt. Joseph Gambles is familiar with leadership.
As a professional military education instructor for the Yokota Airman Leadership School here, Gamble ensures the Air Force is stocked with reliable NCOs who are responsible for tailoring young Airmen into future leaders.
The Airman Leadership School program is a six-week course Airmen must accomplish if they are to assume the rank of staff sergeant. According to Gambles, ALS molds Airmen into better leaders by giving them the skills needed to be effective supervisors.
"My job as an instructor is to be a living extension of the ALS curriculum that students are responsible to read," Gambles said. "That is to say, if the students cannot grasp the material from the reading alone, I apply different methods of presentation until the student can comprehend it."
Senior Airman Robert Tangen, a 374th Medical Operations Squadron allergy and immunizations technician and current ALS student, said Gambles has an approachable and open teaching style, while still commanding authority as an instructor.
"If you do not understand something or you need clarification, (Gambles) is good at breaking it down and making it understandable," Tangen said. "You are not afraid to approach him and you never feel like you have a stupid question.
"It really shows his professionalism overall, being approachable in that manner," Tangen added. "Gambles shows you what type of person you would want to be in a supervisory position."
Gambles said he ensures the students are able to fully understand and apply lesson principles (on course exams), grade written and oral assignments and execute a graduation ceremony in a distinct, formal manner, but his personal goal as an instructor is to allow students to see what they are capable of becoming: a great supervisor and leader.
"In-residence ALS is of the utmost importance because these members are crossing into a new tier where they are going to be responsible for supervising other Airmen," Gambles said. "This course really highlights for them the weight of that responsibility while, at the same time, equipping them to face that challenge."
Gambles said without this training, the majority of new NCOs fall into one of the two extremes of the supervisory spectrum: being too strict or being a buddy rather than a leader. According to Gambles, most new NCOs feel like leadership is too far a destination to reach, but by the time the students graduate they are well informed of what they need to do to carry the mantle of supervision.
The curriculum taught includes one-on-one counseling, setting standards, evaluating and providing feedback, methods of motivating and how to produce quality written products. The program's curriculum exposes the students to dozens of leadership philosophies and motivational theories, techniques to manage time, stress, group dynamics, human diversity and joint operations.
"What makes the learning experience complete is that students must incorporate concepts of time, stress and conflict management," the instructor said. "They need to actually be a better communicator, not only for briefings, but to actually function as a team."
Gambles, who said he is in the best position since he began his Air Force career, has instructed seven flights through the ALS program and is currently working with his eighth. He said the highlight of his work is witnessing the moment a student realizes their potential to be an effective supervisor and becomes aware of the difference they can make in a subordinate's life.
A conviction to do right by their Airmen is the most important ideal a supervisor can maintain, according to Gambles. He said what drove him to become an instructor was the lack of this conviction in many supervisors.
"All across the service there are members with mediocre to poor supervisors, and that was severely affecting how they in-turn would supervise," Gambles said.
"After I graduated from the NCO Academy in December 2010, I realized I had strength in public speaking," he added. "I felt I could use this talent to help others and attempt to send a higher quality supervisor back to the units."
Gambles does exactly that with every course he instructs, according to Tangen, who said the ALS courses focuses on leading by example and Gambles is able to be that example the students can look up to while they are learning.
"We can look back and think 'he did it that way' and try to emulate that style that he sets being an instructor, or basically a supervisor, for this course," Tangen said.
Every class evolves into a team during the course, according to Gambles. He said it is always great to witness service members "going from conflicting with one another to building friendships that will last for years. "The pride and unity that culminates between all of the students, and us, the staff, on graduation night -- that never gets old," he said.