The Leadership Development Course taught at Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, seeks to improve people skills and allow students to learn from previously failed experiences. Key points of discussion are developing exceptional leaders and combating toxic leadership tendencies. Another focus area is emotional intelligence, or the ability for Airmen to understand and control their emotions, while understanding others to effectively lead.


"Toxic leadership is a very big topic in the media today," said Dr. Fil Arenas, Air University associate professor of leadership studies. "Toxic leaders are leaders that not only cause serious harm to their followers, but to their organization. We're trying to get away from all these abusive behaviors. There is a large gradation in the literature of toxic leadership that goes from trace toxics, to completely abusive leadership that causes people to commit suicide; that is the extreme scale."

To keep pace with the constant evolution of technology and understanding of the psychology of personalities, the Air Force has shifted how it looked at leadership and how to develop effective leaders.

"Leadership isn't just about intelligence and just having IQ doesn't make you an effective leader," said Lt. Col. Andrew Clayton, Air University assistant professor of leadership studies. "You have to be able to connect with people, create relationships and understand how you impact the environment."

Janine Belasco, a U.S. Air Force simulation specialist, acts as a male avatar during a virtual empathy and interpersonal communication exercise, at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., The simulation was adopted as a capstone for Air University's new Leadership Development Course.

(U.S. Air Force photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)

The shift to developing leaders' interpersonal skills presented a training opportunity in an area that was unfamiliar to Air University, prompting Clayton to ask local education experts for support and guidance.

He was introduced to Janine Belasco, a trained actress with no military affiliation, and her line of employment — virtual empathy and leadership training.

"It is the most important work to me," Belasco said. "To help people be able to talk about how they feel and to help people be able to feel empathy before they become leaders so they can react to others with true emotions and acts of caring is very important."

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.