By Master Sgt. Christopher Riffle
27th Special Operations Security Forces Squadron
Having served 18 years in the Air Force, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to learn from and work beside some of the greatest leaders the military has ever seen. I do not claim to be a subject matter expert on leadership, nor do I consider myself to be a great leader. However, I know enough about the subject to share my thoughts on how great leadership can result in a successful unit.
The Air Force defines leadership as the art of influencing and directing people to accomplish the mission. This very difficult task can be accomplished if leaders at every level keep two very important elements in mind, successfully completing the mission, and taking care of their people.
Great leaders know the importance of their unit’s personnel and their role in mission success. Gen. Curtis E. Lemay, former Air Force Chief of Staff stated, “No matter how well you apply the art of leadership, no matter how strong your unit or how high the morale of your men, if your leadership is not directed completely toward the mission, your leadership has failed.”
I’ve always believed that this meant that, as a leader, if I was taking care of my Airmen and their needs it would ensure that the unit’s mission would be successful.
All Airmen are able to be leaders regardless of position or rank. Leadership isn’t something everyone is born with; it’s learned and developed.
How we develop ourselves and our Airmen will determine if we’ll ever truly become effective leaders. It’s important that we continue to add to our leadership toolkit by seeking professional military education, on-the-job training and professional development.
A great leader will ensure that his or her subordinates are given the opportunities to learn leadership traits through deliberate development. It’s through these experiences that we gain the qualities it takes to be a great leader.
Although there are many leadership qualities to speak of, there are a few that I have seen make lasting impacts on personnel and units across my career.
I believe enthusiasm is the most contagious of all. Throughout time the most successful leaders have demonstrated enthusiasm for the mission and their people. A leader’s enthusiasm is contagious and will spread through a unit to motivate others to adjust to the unit’s needs.
As leaders we must demonstrate a commitment to the Air Force, our unit’s mission, and our subordinates. If we do this, our Airmen will want to follow us.
As leaders we must do not only what we ask our Airmen to do, but also more. We must be credible at all times. Remember that we all are on parade and must avoid showing stress when dealing with challenging situations.
Communication is a two-way process. Listen to what your people are saying, because they often have great ideas. Share the importance of the mission and its impact on national interests. A well-informed Airman recognizes the importance of his or her job and will be more effective.
Leaders are responsible for the unit’s mission; if it fails we must accept the consequences. Accountability is also essential. Reward a job well done and hold those who fail to meet the established standards accountable.
Throughout my time here at Cannon, I have witnessed the many successes the 27th Special Operations Wing has accomplished.
I believe this is a direct correlation to the great leadership we have developed. These are Air Commandos at all levels, not just senior officers or NCOs but Airmen as well, those who want this wing to be successful not for personal gain, but because it is expected.
I challenge you to find leadership opportunities that will provide you with additional professional development. Make time to take advantage of educational opportunities at Cannon. Taking these actions will ensure the wing continues to develop leaders needed for its continued success.
Photo: U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Christopher Riffle, 27th Special Operations Security Forces Squadron first sergeant, takes a proud stance just outside the Security Forces building at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., March 21, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Carlotta Holley)