I'll add my two cents (and some more).
Soooooo not everyone on this board agrees with Tony Carr's perspective on the USAF - see his editorial on the Thunderbird mishap from last June and (if you know ANYTHING), you'll know that that piece was designed to elicit an emotional response, did nothing to satisfy public curiosity about the event, shed no new light on the event, and was literally the journalistic equivalent of throwing $hit at a wall - in the name of smearing the AF (cause he thinks it's fun, IMO). After that post I was honestly not sure whether or not to take him seriously any more - and I don't. He was a previous safety guy who "had F-16 experience" but yet he wrote it as someone would who lacked a military flying background. His response to my analysis (http://disq.us/p/1ejpsoe) of his editorial was dismissive, and when presented with facts, he avoided the issue. I don't consider him value-added at this point - as I do this message board. I think he's a semi-talented, own-press-reading, bitter, (ret) Lt Col who has nothing better to do with his time than sport bitch on the internet. I think lots of people agree with that sentiment, and while he can sometimes come close the mark, I don't think (in general) he is that interesting any more.
On that note, and to your question, I don't think the root cause of the USAF's current crisis has much to do with leadership in a traditional sense, but then again, I was never one who drank the AF koolaid that would have all its officers believe that leadership is the panacea to every and all problems. No, sometimes, people make poor decisions and it's not because they are poor leaders. And sometimes, it doesn't matter who's at the seat, there can be (and are) systemic issues in an organization which have far greater effects. Pinning it all on "toxic leadership" is what someone who is still pissed at a lot of previous superiors does when he is no longer subject to their rule. That said, if you choose to orient yourself in such a way, then I suppose that everything can be boiled down to poor leadership (not toxic), but I think there are more systemic issues as to why the USAF is in its current state, and when viewed in that light, will lead to more fruitful changes.
1. 179s: Look a troop in the eye, and tell them that the reason they're going down range for 179 days (vs 180 or more) has nothing to do with the USAF's policy of granting short-tour credit for deployments of longer length (sts). http://www.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/112915/air-force-normalizes-short-tour-credit-policy/. IMO, there is only one reason such a policy could exist, and it is to screw airmen out of a medal, deployment credit, make it easier for the personnel machine to send them downrange again sooner, or whatever. Justifications along the lines of "well, we will need to be able to deploy them again" do not hold water. All airmen who were getting short-tour credit for 180+ day deployments were playing by the same rules, and were all on the same "list". What shifting a policy did while we were in the middle of a war, was create two groups of people - those who had deployed for >181 and <365 who got credit, and those who did not - that is a ripple in the system, and though it may not have an immediately visible consequence, it certainly has an effect and was unfair to lots of people. So, that's one example of something wrong, which has nothing to do with anyone wearing < 4 stars on their shoulders. But toxic leadership? Maybe, but by only one person - not a culture of it.
2. RIFs/Force-shaping: During my time in the USAF, I "survived" two RRFs (I think, maybe, I can't remember at this point). One occurred shortly after I finished the B-Course. The U-S-A-F sent me, a fighter pilot, paperwork that suggested I may not be retained, literally immediately after I finished soaking up the better part of $5M in training costs/taxpayer money and with nearly 10 years of commitment remaining. IMO, this was done in the name of "social justice" - an example of a policy enacted to make everyone feel like they're on the same page and are all of equal value. Was I actually concerned I was going to be force-shaped? Nope. But this is an example of something that is wrong with the AF at a cultural level. Fixing this would go a long way toward re-orienting the AF in the correct direction, but (I get it) it would cause A LOT of teeth-gnashing with the REMFs, and that is a merge I highly doubt the AF wants to buy - because we MUST be socially just, we absolutely must be (sarcasm).
2a. In 2011, the USAF got rid of 157 Majors who should have been allowed to retire:
This occurred, and then (almost immediately), the USAF sought to be granted TERA (and was given it) in order to "slim down":
http://www.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/467816/eligible-officers-enlisted-members-offered-early-retirement/ http://www.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/483997/af-opens-additional-tera-vsp-windows/ http://www.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/467713/af-announces-additional-force-management-programs-to-reduce-force-size/ https://federalnewsradio.com/retirement/2016/01/greg-rinckey-air-force-officers-demand-reinstatement/
Does that not cause one to scratch their head (who said head)? Look a troop in the eye and tell them this is not the apex of hypocrisy and short-sighted decision making. If you ask me, this is an instance of breaking faith with people. And before we cry uncle and say "well we're subject to civilian leadership decisions", I don't remember any stars falling on their swords over that one. GOs should have been resigning up and down the chain over that one. Again, like it or not, when people witness decisions like this, it affects their "matrix" and they then re-evaluate their criteria for staying in the AF for the long haul. What this sequence of decisions made clear was that a member's continued service was arbitrary, and subject to the flavor of the month. That is not going to be good enough for most people who are investing the most valuable years of their working lives towards a successful career, and I think this has had a direct and lasting affect on morale and retention. Again, this is an example of a policy decision that created two classes of people: those who served > 15 years and were not given a retirement, and those who were.
3. Shortly on the pilot bonus: the fact that it hasn't change in what, 20+ years, communicates a lot - if not directly, then indirectly. All the hand-wringing about increased amounts being just around the corner is a little pathetic, and is obviously being done from a reactionary perspective. This should have been addressed YEARS ago, because the Airline hiring wave is NOT a surprise.
4. Focus: This, to me, boils down to what the USAF should be focused on. IMO, it is high-time that "space" and "cyber" became their own separate service (or perhaps services). Much like the USAF growth out of the Army benefited both branches, I think another, modern version of that evolution needs to take place with those two realms so they can get the focus they need, and we can get ours. No, space is NOT a continuation of the "air domain", and neither is cyber. There, I said it. Sure, they abut, but so does the surface of the sea/Earth, with the sky, yet we have different branches dedicated to those domains. IMO the AF is in love with the idea of being a one-sized fits all solution to all problems (or maybe they're addicted to the money, IDK). That last point will lead me to #5.
4a. It was suggested on other message boards that more 11X presence is needed throughout the AF - from staffs, to the FSS. I fully agree with this sentiment, and would happily displace an FSS Maj or Lt Col (while remaining on flying status) and run that shop/unit. Would I be there everyday? Nope, but I wouldn't need to be. See, it's all about policy and setting an expectation. The USAF for far too long has been ceding ever more control to those who don't have to cross a wire. Why is this? Do we really need a finance-trained, specialized Maj/Lt Col to run the finance shop? Really? Does that person even know how to operate DTS or whatever else? And even if they do know how, do they? I highly suspect they fill more of figure-head roll; a leader of those units could easily come from an 11X background and provide actual, bonafied leadership. I would go so far as to say that in order to command anything, you should have to be a rated officer. Yes, this caps non-rated officers - tough shit. Go get wings.
5. This is likely an unpopular opinion on this board, but the biggest mistakes we have recently made (as a nation) have been the strategic errors of invading Iraq in 2003, the "how" of invading Afghanistan in 2001, and then the subsequent withdrawal from Iraq in whenever we actually did it. Bottom line on this one, is that the USAF leadership (at the time) should have thrown down a firm "no" when the Army demanded we play in the conflict for as long as we have, as should have the Navy. Drones and snake eaters? You bet. Multi-million dollar fighter jets, the full capes of the world's greatest AF burning holes in the sky, US Navy billion-dollar aircraft carriers? No way. We have WAY over-extended ourselves in these conflicts and have NOTHING to show for it. Well, except a military full of equipment that is falling apart at a time when we least need it.
I fully grasp that we were sent to war by our civilian leadership, but not calling a goat by its name isn't solving the problem. No, AFPAK Hands will not succeed. Not because of lack of awesome people and their concerted and earnest efforts, but because the strategic context of its goal is illogical and nonsensical. No amount of Air University PHD-research-papering will make it so. The point of the military is to kill people and break their shit; not to nation-build before a war is won. Advising people who don't want what we want isn't the answer - if there's one thing I learned from my experiences, combined with the 'cross cultural competency' assigned by ACSC, it's that. The sooner our "leadership" - of whatever flavor and level - wake up and recognize this, the better. We have poured (and continue to pour) far too much in time, resources, blood, and money into an unwinnable situation. We need to get back to defining realistic, measurable goals, by which we can actually measure a 1 or 0, we can start counting those. I would much prefer to hear from our leadership that the new, stated goal in Afghanistan is to never allow a Taliban, or al Qaeda sponsored/sympathetic government to take root - and leave it at that. We're not interested in standing up a government there; we're not interested in building girls' schools there; we're not interested in teaching air advisers how to read the JP 3.09-3. We are interested in shooting Hellfires off of drones at anyone associated with the Taliban or al Qaeda for the next 1000 years - that's it. This section has run on way too long, but to sum up: our current strategy only exists because we misunderstand who and what type of people we are fighting.
6. HPO lists, etc. This category is all about creating "classes" of people. The military has always been a good 'ol boys club, and it always will be. Formalizing it in Excel spread sheets, and choosing people while they are Captains is what has created and perpetuated a perception that it literally doesn't matter what you do if you're not on that list. It is nothing more than playing favorites, and creates an environment that leads people to separate - now there's some "leadership". I ultimately believe that more transparency in the assignment and promotion system will go a long way to correcting a lot of the AF's current problems as well.
I could, and might, write more, but until next time, if you haven't read this article, the author hits on some extremely relevant points: https://philipgmorrison.wordpress.com/2017/01/15/its-your-move-the-dilemma-of-incurred-commitment-in-the-modern-job-market/.