Joint Base Charleston


The shadow of a leader

By Master Sgt. Christina Warner | 628th Contracting Squadron | March 24, 2014

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. -- James Baldwin, an American author noted for his works on personal identity, states, "Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them." No matter how great the message, the message can be drowned out by conflicting actions. As a leader, what message do you send? What shadow do you cast?

The role of a leader at work requires modeling the desired behavior and letting others see the desired values in action. Talk is cheap. To be effective leaders, we must become aware of the messages and signals we send. Action is proof in the pudding! I challenge you to reflect for a moment on your shadow, the nonverbal cues and the message your wingmen send.

Do your actions reflect your words? In many cases, leaders are unaware of the shadow they cast. You should get feedback from your coworkers and see if the shadow you think you cast is actually the shadow everyone sees. Good leaders know how important it is to have consistency between your words and actions. Airmen are smart. They will quickly notice the discrepancy between the two. When that happens, your credibility is jeopardized. Don't lose credibility! Work on strengthening your shadow. Though not an easy task to accomplish, it requires three processes:

- A willingness to look closely at your behaviors

- Understanding your impact on others

- Openness to change yourself in order to change the people around you

Are you up for the challenge?

Once you have strengthened your shadow, use the shadow concept as a motivator. One of the primary motivators that cause people to mimic others is the desire to have the respect and approval of people who we feel are important to us. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Airmen will work extra hard for leaders they respect. Cast a respectable shadow worth imitating.

If you took a poll and asked what the first important influence in a person's life was or where it came from, most will identify their parents. Imitating our parents is where we first learned the shadow concept. Many parents and leaders will say, "Do as I say, not as I do." This statement doesn't work for your children nor will it work for your Airmen. Make an investment in your Airmen by setting the example. It is easy to fill out a feedback form and tell a subordinate what is expected of them. The real task is showing your Airmen the value in meeting those standards by projecting those standards yourself.

As leaders, we owe it to our Airmen to "walk the walk, not just talk the talk." With quality force review boards, enlisted review boards, new feedback and EPR forms on the horizon, it is our duty to cast a shadow, a positive shadow, and to guide our Airmen to a successful career path. The attitude of a leader, coupled with actions to motivate an organization, can encourage and empower people to accomplish great things. Know your role and your shadow. As Gandhi most eloquently said, "We must be the change we want to see."

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