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)