We sat down with 16656 Scott Clancy, CMR 1989, to talk Santa, spy balloons and what life is like since retirement.
How does one become the NORAD Director of Operations? Tell us about your journey.
There is no defined path through a career. It is going to be a mix of things one must do, opportunities that one must CHOOSE to do, and luck. (I don’t believe in luck….I think luck is where opportunity meets preparedness’)
Most of my career was spent trying to be the consummate Tactical Helicopter pilot. Honing skills in the cockpit, leading in a unit and teaching aviation and land force tactics. But the opportunity to branch into NORAD presented itself when I was promoted to Colonel. It was daunting. I knew about NORAD only from my time in Winnipeg as a planner for expeditionary operations. It was also the first time my family was going to be posted OUTCAN which although is the US, can still be daunting. My wife and I took a deep breath and jumped. And we loved it!
I ran the venerable N2C2 (NORAD-USNORTHCOM Command Center) for three years. I lived the NORAD mantra “We Have the Watch” holding duty for months on shift, seeing every aspect of military strategic and natural disaster, and enabling decision making on the responses.
The next opportunity presented itself when I was already a BGen with another OUTCAN to Alaska as the Deputy Commander to an American 3 star General. Less daunting because of our previous experience, Val and I again took the leap that this opportunity presented to us. For two years we experienced fantastic Alaska in Anchorage, while I held the command authorities when the boss was out of Anchorage…which was most of the time. Alaska is the first line of defence with Russia a mere few miles across the Bering Strait. I learned first hand what it was going to take to defend the continent via multiple intercepts and operations countering Russia.
It seemed a logical progression from Alaska to return to Colorado Springs as the Director of Operations for NORAD. When we were offered this opportunity, it didn’t even seem like a leap, but a return home. The friends and allies we had made in Colorado welcomed us and I was well versed to confront the challenges of defending the Canada and the US from the wide variety of threats.
When you walked through the gates of CMR in 1984, did you ever think you would end up in this position?
No!! No way! I couldn’t have imagined that as a LCol, let alone as an officer cadet. However what never changed from that day in 1984, was my desire to serve my country. I knew in 1984 that I wanted to fly. I had an innate feeling that later I recognized was a desire to lead and follow to the best of my ability. The rest is a series of opportunities and choices. The path to the same place in our force can be as varied as the people that make it up!
What was one of your favourite memories of CMR?
After a full recruit term and prep year, the day after grad parade, they shipped all of us preps across the country to BC for BOTC. We were all still hungover from the festivities of the night before. The RCAF boeing aircraft de-gorged us into the Vancouver international airport. With little or no supervision! We were met with a series of NCOs in the baggage check area who were yelling and screaming at us like we were recruits!! I remember turning to my best friend and winking, “Here we go again!” with a wry smile.
If you could go back and give your younger self some advice, what would it be?
Start writing in a journal…. Take moments to reflect on things and how you could do better
Take more pictures! Keep little mementos.
Do more GD with the troops, share in their deprivations, be present and chip in to the most menial of tasks, not matter how busy you are.
What was it like tracking Santa every year with NORAD? Is he hard to keep up with?
On our first year in NORAD Val and I volunteered to do an hour on the phones talking to people who called in to hear about where Santa was. We volunteered to stay for an extra hour! It was the fastest, most emotional and fun thing ever!! Children from all over the world called in. Being able to contribute to something so very positive and happy was extraordinary.
On a more serious note, the detection of the mysterious flying objects has been worrisome for many people – can you explain a little more about what is going on with these objects?
NORAD is ever improving its system of detection for all possible threats to North America. The Chinese balloon that started these recent objects is part of a long standing and determined effort by the PRC (China) to gather intelligence and test the military and political resolve of the US and by extension Canada. NORAD adjusted their filters to bring these more into the forefront. Some of this has related to identifying these other objects which were clear threats to civil air traffic. Even the smallest of these could have catastrophic impacts if they impacted an airplane.
What would you say to people who are concerned about our safety due to these objects?
First that Canadians should be reassured by the steadfast and effective manner in which NORAD, and its enterprise of sensors and bi-national command and control is able to wield military force at the direction of both nations.
Second, especially pertaining to the Chinese balloon and the status of aging NORAD equipment, Canadians need to be less naïve about the intentions of Russia and China to destroy our way of life.
You also work as a coach and mentor… tell us more about that side of you.
I always believed that every leader has a responsibility to coach and mentor (or teach) their teams. Leaders need to prepare the people they lead to replace them.
But I found that many leadership discussions, especially in the CAF, quickly reduce down to character traits. I disagree with this. I think that good leadership is a taught skill, it can be practiced and learned. Coincidental, I think that a major skill in leading is being able to coach your team. That is why I have written my book “Developing Coaching Leaders” in order to highlight these skills. (It will be out in the Spring 23)
I developed coaching skills in my various military roles but also as a basketball coach to my sons, as well as an assistant to the RMC Paladins Men’s BBall team for a short time.
Can you tell us about your online leadership forum “Synapses”?
As part of my journey on developing my own leadership skills, I found that for the vest majority of my career I relied on the workplace interactions with my teams, bosses and peers to form my thoughts on leadership.
But once I started to listen to podcasts, and was reading beyond the various “reading lists” it opened my eyes. But still there was no one place where I could soak up a variety of ideas and perspectives, and get some practical tools to deal with things I was facing.
So I have created “Synapses” which is a bi-weekly forum that is designed to make connections like the synapses in your brain. Each issue will highlight People, Tools and Concepts surrounding leading and coaching. I will interview leaders and coaches, give pragamatic tools that leaders can use, and explore concepts and research being done in the leading and coaching spheres.
In an upcoming issue I interview a fourth year from the RMC class of 23 who was also one of the beta readers for my book! Here is a link for people to sign up to Synapses AND get my free guide to help people deal with overwhelming schedules.
In your opinion, what makes for a great leader?
…..Read my book (Developing Coaching Leaders – By Scott Clancy) !! I do not think that there is a formula. Great leaders come in all shapes and sizes, characters and capabilities, approaches and styles. I think there is an element of humility in great leaders that is under-sold often. And I think that those leaders that are on a self-reflective/self-improving path will tend to succeed more.
But more than anything I think that a deep sense of service to the mission and care for the people accomplishing the mission are core to great leaders.
What would you say to any young leaders reading this right now?
Follow your instincts. But always remember that emotions don’t necessarily result in actions that are in line with your true values. Reflect on things.
Saying “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer when time is available.
Be sprung loaded to act. Even on significantly imperfect information.
“Talk it up!” Those around you need to know what you are thinking, not just the results of your analysis. It allows them to connect with your vision and you as a leader. It also allows them to insert and improve on your vision.
Admitting you were wrong, going back and fixing something, is NOT weakness. That vulnerability is a superpower. Hugely uncomfortable!! But a skill that should be practiced until it is muscle memory. Your people will remember that forever.
Stand up for things that are wrong. Champion what you believe in. You will be surprised how you are supported, but moreover you will never regret it personally.
As the Deputy Commander of the Alaskan NORAD Region what was your favourite experience in that post?
As with almost any posting, it is the people that resonate with you. I had the opportunity to command a small group of Canadians, but mostly US forces defending our nations. I remember looking around our house during a social event we hosted after the retirement of a good friend and Chief of Staff to our HQ at all of the Canadian and military families in every nook and corner laughing and discussing well into the night. It reminded me why we must be good people and good allies.
As a young child did you always dream of flying helicopters?
Actually no! I wanted to be a fighter pilot. But especially in the ground attack role. My childhood hero was Maj Gregory “Pappy” Boyington of the infamous Black Sheep. That changed when I got to primary flight school. The character and persona of the Tac Hel community was exposed to me by my career long mentor while on that course and it changed my life, for the best!
What’s one thing people might not know about you?
I love music. I was a drummer for years playing in lots of bands. Took up the guitar and love playing and writing music. I even played and sang in a band in Alaska!
How was the transition from Pilot to a Command position managing personnel and operations?
It is one of the toughest transitions in my career. Trying to juggle the maintenance of tactical proficiency with all of the EW, SMM, technical and tactical skills, while prioritizing people and ensuring an effective way to manage operations to achieve sometimes overwhelming tasks was very trying.
As I increased in my seniority, I found myself being matched with less and less experienced first officers, at the same time I was getting less and less time to maintain my own currency.
It was this experience (amongst many other factors) that led me to introduce the Air Ops trade into the RCAF. Pilots needed to focus on operating their aircraft and be EXPERT at that.
Has there ever been a time in your career where you made a bad leadership decision, and it affected your team? If so, how did you gain back trust from your team?
This is probably a better question for someone who has worked for me!
When I commanded the Air Component in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010, I became embroiled in a personality conflict with a very superior officer in the RCAF. Due to the fluid nature of operations and absolutely no privacy in my headquarters, this became very obvious to my team. Being loyal and great team-mates, they took my side. But this biased the team against any decisions coming from the HQ associated with this leader.
As this became obvious to me I realised it was detracting from the overall effectiveness of the team and by extension the mission. And with all personality conflicts, I had to recognise my role in this. Moreover I had to recognise that my personal issues had no business in the dynamic and chaotic situation we were living in.
I had to sit down with my team and come clean with my role in this conflict, and how I had acted inappropriately in allowing them visibility into it, and ergo undermined a superior officer’s authority. It went against many things that I had espoused in my leadership approach. Many who had until then supported me wholeheartedly saw the dichotomy and my shortfalls only at that moment. And I know I lost a lot of respect in their eyes.
Recovery from that is tough. The honesty and vulnerability with the people on my team was key. But I also did not shrink away from the fact that I still needed to lead and direct operations, and clearly still had the authority to do so. You recover from that one discussion, one admission …. one day at a time. And it ingrains a sense of humility in you. Honour that.