TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Anyone who knows me knows there are two things I am most passionate about when it comes to my career; taking care of Airmen and leadership.
As the daughter of a retired senior master sergeant and aircraft maintainer, I have always loved the Air Force and the Airmen who serve in it. From the maintainers who work on the flightline day in and day out, even in the most severe weather conditions, to our defenders working around the clock to keep us safe, your selfless service and pride in what you do is evident.
So why is it we are losing so many of our Airmen, our greatest strength and asset, to the civilian sector? Although there are a plethora of reasons one might choose to leave the active-duty Air Force, I believe poor leadership is one of them. Hence, my passion for inspiring others to be extraordinary leaders.
Even as an Air Force civilian, I have had great leaders and let’s just say, not so great leaders. In all fairness, this isn’t an Air Force phenomenon. Poor leadership can be found in nearly every organization around the world.
There is sometimes a misconception that rank or status alone makes one a leader. You can have all the rank or status in the world, but it doesn’t make you a leader. Moreover, you don’t have to be in a supervisory position to be a great leader.
You’ve heard the saying “lead by example,” right? You can be the kind of leader others will want to follow, without ever supervising a single person and although I could go on for days talking about what makes one a great leader, in the interest of time, I will cover what I believe to be the foundations of great leadership.
At the heart of great leadership is self-awareness or knowing oneself. Without knowing yourself and truly understanding who you are at the core, it is impossible to effectively lead others. For example, understanding what motivates you, what you value, what makes you feel appreciated, your communication style, your weaknesses or as I like to call them, “opportunities for growth,” and, of course, your strengths. This is vital to great leadership.
Of almost equal importance is knowing your Airmen. I’m not talking about superficial knowledge like who their favorite National Football League team is, although this is a great tool for rapport building. I mean really know your Airmen. Take the time to know their backgrounds, where they are from, what motivates them, why they joined the Air Force and what do they enjoy doing in their free time? Not only will it help you lead that Airman in a way he or she will respond favorably to, most importantly, it builds trust.
However, this can’t be a one-sided relationship. Your Airmen need to feel as though they know you as well. Remember, although it’s just as important to share information about yourself, as their supervisor, you should always maintain boundaries. They don’t need to know your spouse left you and took your favorite hunting dog.
Trust. I cannot express enough how important trust is when it comes to great leadership. I have had supervisors who I wouldn’t tell anything to because I felt those supervisors didn’t know anything of substance about me. Without taking the time to know your Airmen in a more personal way, your Airmen will feel as though you don’t know or care to know anything about them. Ultimately, if they have the perception that you don’t care, they will never trust you enough to ask for help or confide in you when life throws them a curveball.
With the holiday season upon us, great leadership is crucial. This is the time of year when many Airmen will face challenges that at times may seem insurmountable. This is also the time of year when many of us are homesick and miss our families and friends.
Know your Airmen. Don’t just tell them you care. Show them you care. Be a great leader.