Tag Archives: management

Being a leader is about empowerment

by Capt. Joe Ahlers
97th Air Mobility Wing Office of the Staff Judge Advocate

When you look up a few quotes on leadership, common themes develop: leaders are visionary. Leaders show the way and guide those underneath them to success. Leaders take the helm, they steer the ship and they set the example. For lack of a better word, leaders…lead.

But just as, if not more, important to developing as a leader is learning to empower subordinates to take on leadership roles of their own. As impressive as one person’s credentials may be, they cannot alone be the stone on which a successful organization is built. Successful leaders know this and they cultivate strong leadership skills among their followers by harnessing a vital but difficult to master personal skill: deference. Deference means showing respect or yielding to an idea, person, or organization not of one’s own. Deference is not easy; leaders must make tough decisions and supporting a subordinate’s ideas or methods is difficult when the leader knows that they will bear the responsibility if things go wrong. Yet, a leader who defers to their subordinates when appropriate will have followers who are more invested in their work, produce better results, and are more dedicated to the greater success of the organization.

leadership

Take for example two supervisors, Jack and Susan. Jack dictates exactly what each person in an office project will work on and how they should carry out their tasks; he spends significant time re-working memorandums from his subordinates to conform to his style of writing and carefully scrutinizes the most minor decisions within his organization. Jack’s employees know they are merely at work to fulfill Jack’s task listing and do not make efforts to go above and beyond as doing so has little payoff in Jack’s eyes.

Susan, on the other hand, provides her employees a framework for office tasks but gives them latitude to explore and develop their own solutions. Susan ensures work product is accurate and sets general guidelines but believes it is important that a subordinate’s work carry its own voice and not simply her style or way of doing things. Susan ultimately makes the final decision but her employees see that she genuinely considers their viewpoints and trusts them as professionals. Susan’s subordinates are more confident and enthusiastic in their daily work and take pride in ensuring they take charge of their job functions regardless of their prominence.

Deference in leadership is easily applicable in the military. Even tasks guided by layers of regulation provide opportunities for leeway in how to accomplish daily tasks. Effective leaders nurture leadership at every level and encourage subordinates to become the expert and take responsibility for their work. If a written memorandum is wrong, fix it, but leave some room for the subordinate to use their own style; supervisors can ensure work is in the proper form and promote an employee’s confidence by deferring to their personal style. Provide subordinates a framework for how to accomplish a task and see what they come up with; you might be surprised to see a new way of doing things and you’ll drive the employee to work harder to impress.

In many ways, we are all leaders; we have raised our hands to guide the defense of the nation in whatever way we’re asked. But in daily life, leadership is much more than managing a task or directing a project; it’s about promoting a environment in which those who follow you do so not because they have to but because they desperately want to impress you and improve your organization. A true leader knows that empowering the skills and abilities of those who follow them means promoting the ideas of not just themselves, but all individuals who make up a successful team.

What kind of leader are you? What’s your leadership style?

PHOTO: Lt. Gen. Darren McDew, 18th Air Force commander, visits with Airmen from the 6th Medical Group at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., March 11, 2014. McDew toured multiple sections of the MacDill clinic. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tori Schultz)

Strong, positive leaders engage Airmen, Dec. 5, 2012

 

F-15 fly in formation at the Air Force Memorial.

By Col. Jason Beck
51st Security Forces Squadron commander

The stripes, bars, oak leaves, eagles and stars on our uniforms tell the world that we are leaders. Strong, positive leadership is crucial in today’s ever changing Air Force, and the rank on our uniform illustrates visible symbols of our leadership authority that the Air Force has placed on us. But, being a leader consists of much more than the rank that you wear on your uniform. I have been fortunate in my career to be surrounded by phenomenal leaders. The lessons I learned from them helped me develop into the officer I am today. I pass these “essentials” of leadership on to you in the hopes that they help you as much as they have helped me.

Remember, you are a leader 24/7, in and out of uniform, on and off base – not just when it is convenient for you. When your Airmen are working hard, don’t spare yourself, do the same and set the example. Leadership by example isn’t something you can delegate. You must demonstrate it daily. Clock watching shouldn’t happen, especially in today’s “do more with less,” resource-constrained environment.

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to create an atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence in your unit. While being honest with others is paramount, you also have an obligation to be honest with yourself. Don’t do things just to make yourself look good in front of the boss. If this is your idea of being a good leader, you’ve lost before you’ve even started.

It’s imperative we leaders get actively involved in the lives of our Airmen. Demonstrate through actions, not words, that you care about your Airmen and about the conditions they live and work in. Always accept total responsibility for any organizational failures and remember, leaders fix mistakes and never blame others.

Organizations achieve success by having responsible “doers,” not dreamers. Large projects and meaningful achievements are accomplished by brave Airmen in the trenches, not by those who watch from a distance; not by the fans in the stands but by the focused, committed players and coaches on the field; not by those leaders who stay in the middle of the road where things are safe but by those leaders who get off the fence of indecision, even though their decisions are sometimes unpopular. Be a leader and take the decisive action needed; earn your rank every day.

Set standards high and insist everyone else measure up. Haircuts, uniform wear, basic customs and courtesies; these may not be at the top of your priority list as a leader, but if these small details start falling off in your organization, it won’t be long before things such as discipline and job performance begin to suffer. Ensure you work hard for your subordinates – they deserve the best and count on you to set the right tone in your unit.

Communicate with your Airmen daily. Be able to articulate how the role of each Airman contributes to the unit’s mission and how that mission fits into the role of the wing. Know your role and ensure your Airmen are intimately familiar with theirs. Communicate with your Airmen in their work centers, not yours, make yourself available and take the message to them. As hard as it can be, always take the time to leave your desk and make yourself visible in their work areas to demonstrate genuine concern for what your Airmen are doing and thinking. Listen. Airmen are full of great ideas, but they won’t see the light of day if a positive communication climate is not established and fostered.

Above all, be honest with your subordinates and superiors. Tell it like it is and insist that your Airmen do the same. There are few things that can be more disastrous to the dynamics of an organization than “yes” people, half-truths and a lack of integrity.

I sincerely hope that you’ve had the good fortune to be surrounded by great leaders in your career like I have. There are as many principles of good leadership as there are people who serve as leaders. However, that doesn’t diminish the importance of strong, positive, engaged leadership.

As a leader, it is imperative you select and carry out the principles that work the best for you and your Airmen.

Photo: Four F-15E Strike Eagles fly June 2, 2011, above the Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Va. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gino Reyes)