TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Do you want to inspire others, make an impact and leave a legacy behind? If the answer is yes, then you are probably committed to being a leader. However, you may be feeling apprehensive to lead, as I did when I was a young Airman. I used to think leaders are supposed to be higher in rank and older than I was. Alternatively, I heard the word leadership tossed around a lot in an undefined manner and was not sure what it really meant.
The Air Force has taught me, since stepping off the bus in basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, that leadership is not just an art or a science as we learned in school. Rather, leadership is a philosophy that drives an attitude to appreciate and care for others. Sometimes that contribution may be as simple as taking care of someone’s most basic of physical or psychological needs. It may be as easy as ensuring someone had lunch today or that we recognized them for a job well done. Frankly, we do not have to be high ranking to perform any of these simplest of tasks. We just need a desire to care about people.
Regardless of position, the best leaders I encountered throughout my Air Force career demonstrated a genuine empathy and intense care for folks. These truly transformational leaders inspired me with a strong sense of purpose. Additionally, they encouraged collaborative and caring work environments open to the exchange of ideas. Not all of these leaders were higher ranking, active duty military, or older than I was. I say, regardless of position, status or age, just lead.
Although the Air Force considers technical expertise at the core of every Airman’s professional development, I feel it is less significant than other attributes needed for effective leadership. Care, empathy, relationship building and effective communication rank far higher on my leadership list of skills to practice. A strong sense of caring demonstrates the desired trust looked for when we are delegated authority over others. The more we genuinely care about an individual, the more opportunities we get to lead groups of people.
Lead with a courageous passion especially when it focuses on taking care of Airmen. Recognize that the foundation of societies, organizations and families rests on the collaborative strength of individual human capital devoted to the group. Additionally, strive to gain their increased trust and work on relationship building. Strong relationships aid in collaborating to gain ideas for ethically robust decision making when confronting challenges.
Finally, continuously practice being an exemplary leader. By constantly working on developing our positive skills and habits, we expand our capacity to lead. Followership is very important, but only by practicing our leadership skills do we continue to develop as leaders. Exercising our concern for others ensures we meet our individual Airman’s needs through ethical, passionate and servant leadership. Caring for others ensures we do the right thing, the right way and for the right reason.