JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
First, I want to give a big shout out to a first sergeant mentor of mine, Senior Master Sgt. Thomas, for sharing this with me. This message is very powerful and was too good not to share with other Airman. So sit back, relax and grab a coffee as this won’t be a short read—nor should it be.
Leadership is defined as “the art of influencing and directing people to accomplish the mission.” We all have our ways of leading and developing others and there is no one right way of doing so. However, you cannot be the same style of leader for every Airman. You can quickly burn bridges and crush your relationship with Airmen if you take a cookie-cutter approach to leadership.
You need to know your people. Be instrusive! I’m not saying you need to follow their Facebook or Twitter feeds, but you need to know a little bit about every person who works with and for you. You may need to be very direct and rash with one Airman because that style of leadership works for that person. On the flipside, you may need to tone your language down, both verbal and non-verbal, to another Airman. Again, you must utilize adaptability when approaching leadership. Know your people, know what makes them operate, know what their goals and aspirations are and finally, lead/mentor your Airmen. In war, you can’t manage people—they need to be lead and our country depends on you for that.
I have been in the Air Force for 14 years and throughout my time in the military, I have worked for some outstanding leaders and some horrible ones. I tend to balance my leadership style using what I have seen and learned. I add to my proverbial "toolbox" by taking bits from the good and the bad, and I pride myself on not being that "manager" that no one wants to approach. I strive to know more than the next person—I owe that to you. I want my Airmen to look at me and know that their best interests are at the forefront and that I am willing to advocate for them to no end. Easier said that done!
You need to know your unit’s mission and if you don’t know it, seek it out! Ensure you are training your Airmen, dig into their training records, quiz them on specific tasks and references. However, the most important thing you can do is get out from behind your desks. Don’t be that leader that never gets out away from their computer unless it is lunch or it is time to leave for the day.
Short story, as a tech. sergeant in 2010, I returned to my communications AFSC from a special duty and my first job was to be the sole project manager for an intelligence community. I could have sat in my office and just pointed, emailed, and directed the Airman to do their job and let that be that. I refused to do so as that is not how I operate. I was out in the work areas pulling cable and moving assets (not the most glamorous job—but important) to ensure the intel missions flew without failure. Why? One Team, One Fight! It isn’t one individual that fails the mission. If that occurs, it is a chain effect. A team either wins together or loses together. Bottom line is that I refuse to quit on my Airmen—and I never lose!
Lastly, as a leader, even as part of a team, you are in the perfect position to give others the boost of confidence they need to do their best. I challenge each and every one of you who is reading this to encourage your Airmen. Take the time to look them in the eyes and to do more than tell them “I have your back.”… Show them!
In closing, my questions to you are:
1. How will your Airmen define you as a leader?
2. When you have separated or retired from the Air Force, what will your legacy be?