Teaching strategic leadership communication at Air War College

The Air War College, which prepares US and allied Air Force officers with a solid graduate education, invited Dr Waller teach a class in its Strategic Leadership Communication course.

Dr Waller’s April 25 class was a contrarian approach to strategic communication. Frank B. Kalupa, Director of the Center for Strategic Leadership Communication, hosted him to teach the class.

His presentation focused on strategic communication, strategically applied, in order to win conflicts without fighting them. This requires more strategic thinking and planning than the US government does any more, so Dr Waller’s presentation took a historic look at how the US tackled the issue successfully since 1943.

The students were mid-level officers from the US, NATO allies, and South Korea. The Air War College is at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.

Dr Waller discussed knowing the enemy and knowing oneself, as the ancient Chinese general Sun Tzu had prescribed; strategic and definitional issues; vulnerabilities assessments; components of strategic communication like information operations and psychological operations; psychological warfare as known in the classical mid-20th century sense; and issues about how to modify the behavior of foreign adversaries to deny them the will to become our enemies.

He also discussed how to turn anything into a weapon, and how to make any weapon a psychological weapon.

The larger course

The larger course, taught in a “modified Socratic” method, analyzes the critical role of communication in facilitating sustained leadership success, according to the syllabus.  “Participants explore today’s best practices of full spectrum communication, including developing a culture of engagement and leveraging hybrid communication essential in managing Air Force and Department of Defense challenges. Recognizing communication as the quintessential leadership competence, the class will explore (1) leadership communication, (2) strategic communication principles, (3) social media concepts, and (4) war of ideas challenges,” the syllabus says.

Course learning objectives

  • Acknowledge the evolving and mission-critical concept of effective leadership communication.
  • Understand how strategic communication is currently being utilized at world-class organizations.
  • Appreciate the revolutionary impact and challenging potential of social media and digital communication.
  • Value an Air Force culture of engagement, innovation and risk taking.
  • Comprehend the nature and challenges of the war of ideas.
  • Recognize that an idea, vision, or mission without effective communication is another lost opportunity.


“This course will focus on one of the most essential, most powerful, most effective, and cheapest weapons of war-winning,” according to Dr Kalupa’s syllabus. “We will consider why the power of information is one of the military’s least understood and valued instruments of power.  You might fight wars without fully and effectively leveraging communication – but you can’t win without it.