Influential ready Airmen

  • Published
  • By Col. Ron Langford
  • 22nd Operations Group commander
The strategic vision of the 22nd Air Refueling Wing encompasses three aspects, Ready Mobility, Ready Base and Ready Airman.

All three aspects are important to the Air Force, and the nation, but if you take away all the facilities and all the equipment we use to make our mission happen, it is obvious that our people make the difference.

"I need people that will lead." McConnell Airmen hear this statement from almost every commander and supervisor. We are all looking for the individual that will step up and take responsibility to make decisions, take action and get results. In this article there is no way that I can sum up the thousands of theories about what it takes to be a good leader. What I would like is focus on is one seemingly small, but vital, aspect of leadership development -- an Airman's influence.

In Chapter 2 of John C. Maxwell's book, "The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership," he discusses the "Law of Influence." In short, he says, that the true measure of leadership is influence. If a leader does not have influence, he will never be able to lead others.

While reflecting on that thought, I realized that in my two years here at McConnell, I have met with amazing young Airmen who feel truly at the end of the proverbial leadership whip. They feel that on a day-to-day basis they have no real influence on their workplace, much less the wing or the Air Force.

I can assure you that they could not be farther from the truth. Each and every Airman has a sphere of influence, this may include their coworkers, neighbors in the dorms, the guys you workout with, hang out with on the weekend, or play video games with. In your "ordinary" day-to-day interactions with people, you make an impact. The real question is -- are you a positive influence or a negative influence on those you interact with?

Influence is a curious thing. Even though we have an impact on nearly everyone around us, our level of influence is not the same with everyone. For example, think of the four or five people you work with. When you present an idea to them or make a suggestion, do they all respond in the same way? Of course not. If you start paying closer attention to people's responses to yourself and others, you will see that people respond to one another according to their level of influence. In Maxwell's book, "Becoming a Person of Influence," he illustrates 10 points to help anyone become a positive influence on those around him.

Maxwell begins with the fact that a person with positive influence has integrity. It is no accident that this is his first point. It is the very foundation of having a positive impact on those around you. The bottom line is when it comes to integrity, it allows others to trust you, and trust is the single most important factor in personal and professional relationships. Maxwell also says to nurture those in your circle, don't tear them down. Develop an environment where friends and coworkers feel respected by building subordinates with praise, and building bridges with those you have tended to be negative with in the past. Having faith in people by finding a strength that you can encourage, building on their past successes, can help others overcome defeat. Actively listening to your friends and co-workers is also important. Do not be preoccupied with what you have to say, instead, make an effort to understand the people in your circle. Find out where they come from, where they want to go, what they need and how you can help. Positive influence is all about connecting with others, so be a mentor and find someone who is less advanced in experience and/or knowledge and take active steps to help bring them along. If you are a supervisor, you can do this by empowering your subordinates. Evaluate the capabilities of those who work for you, then model your expectations of them. Even people with knowledge, skill and desire need to know what is expected of them, and the best way to inform them is to show them. Give them permission to succeed, then transfer some of your authority onto them.

Finally, a person of influence produces other influential leaders. Reproducing leaders raises your influence to a new level, it multiplies resources and ideas and will ensure a positive future for your organization. Great things happen when you take potential leaders under your wing, develop them, empower them, share with them how to become persons of influence and then release them to go out and raise up leaders of their own.

In today's environment, practical positive leadership influence can be demonstrated in a number of key ways. First, how have you approached our invigorated fitness culture? Have you embraced the challenge to improve physically and have you engaged your sphere of influence to have others follow your lead? The choice is yours. In the weeks and months to come, you'll read about young leaders in this wing that have taken the fitness challenge on. If you look closely, you will find that many of the people behind those fitness success stories are just like you. The only difference is that they made the choice to lead through their actions, and they will undoubtedly have a positive influence on those around them. Next, have you internalized our wingman culture? Are you aware of those around you? Do you take positive steps to ensure they are safe even when they failed to plan or have made a bad decision? The only way we as a wing can turn our driving under the influence statistics around is by each Airman being a positive influence at his/her level and by taking responsibility for others.

Finally, have you stepped out of your comfort zone to grow personally or professionally? Let me assure you that you will never know what satisfaction and success you can achieve until you step outside your comfort zone. I encourage you to get involved with the private organization targeted to your professional level, for example the Airman's Council, Route 5/6, Top 3, the Company Grade Officer's Council, etc. All of these organizations have great members striving to be a positive influence at McConnell. A final crucial point to remember is that your level of influence is not static. Even if you have had a negative effect on others in the past, you can turn that around and make your impact positive just by applying yourself.

Finally, let me leave you with a couple of quick shots to ponder. First, it is critical to lead oneself and develop a strong foundation in self-management. Second, even "the lowest Airman in the shop" will soon have an opportunity to lead something, whether it is a document review team or a project. Third, as Maxwell writes, "Champions don't become champions in the ring -- they are merely recognized there." In other words, the Airman that waits until a leadership position is on the horizon to begin developing good leadership skills is way too late. Either the position may never present itself, or if it does, he will lack the necessary skills to thrive in that position.

Now, get out there and make a positive impact on your sphere of influence!