Living in glass houses

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Robert Mallets
  • 22nd Operations Support Squadron commander
During my leadership training over the past 20 or so years, I've been told, "You as a leader live in a glass house." As I continue to increase my responsibilities as a leader, I am convinced this is an important concept for all leaders to know and understand.

Each of us, as Airmen is a leader and must understand no matter the rank, we live and work in a "glass house." Living in a "glass house" means we are always accountable for our actions, both on and off duty.

Of course as we gain responsibility, more people watch our actions and consequences for poor decisions become more dire.

As an Airman, we have plenty of people looking into our "glass house;" seeing if we meet standards and ensuring we learn how to be the best at our specialty.

As our Airman transition to the non-commissioned officer ranks, the pool of more junior observers continues to grow. Your actions are now under scrutiny from your subordinates as well as your superiors. Your superiors expect you adhere to the standards and enforce the standards. Mistakes are less tolerated and expectations towards being the role model continue to grow.

As a senior non-commissioned officer, the observer pool continues to grow and your leadership expects you to be the model for your subordinates. Every action is even more scrutinized and mistakes at this level can be career ending.

As officers, the requirement to lead comes with the rank. Other than the flying world, the second lieutenant is expected to lead the moment he arrives at his first duty assignment. In the flying world, leadership comes later.

Whenever leadership duties begin, officers are always expected to be the example and be ready to lead. Even the most junior second lieutenant is always being watched by those junior in rank and usually most scrutinized by our NCO and SNCO corps. Of the more than 325,000 Air Force members, 261,000 are junior in rank to the youngest second lieutenant.

As officers climb the rank ladder into the field grade officer ranks, the number of observers grows and the number of peers shrinks. With fewer peers, more of the subordinates begin recognizing you on and off duty. This continues as you become a squadron commander and even more when you pin on the rank of colonel and take on higher command responsibilities.

No doubt that when the wing commander goes anywhere on base, everyone is watching what he is doing. Everything he says or does will be observed and reported either formally or informally around the base. With that said, is it a good thing or a bad thing that we all live in "glass houses?"

No doubt the number one negative effect is you do not enjoy the privilege of privacy as a leader. Everything you do will be under scrutiny. Your subordinates, down to the most junior Airman, know who you are and recognize you no matter where you go; the commissary, the movie theater, or at a restaurant; you are being observed.

Your actions, no matter whether they are good or bad are observed and become the topic of discussion. On top of that, you have no way to defend your actions, but the discussion continues and the negative effects can grow.

Sadly, when improper actions are observed or your subordinates interpret the action as condoning the improper actions because if it was good for the commander, it is permissible for the rest of the team.

The same applies to you as a leader observing an infraction of standards and you take no actions. Again, the interpretation is that if the commander does nothing about the infraction, then he condones the infraction and it is permissible to repeat.

These negative effects and perceptions can be detrimental to the good order of the organization, but as a commander or leader, the best thing we can do is ensure that all of our actions are within standards and set the right example. Of course, not all of the effects of living in our "glass house" are negative.

We, as leaders, can use this to our advantage. I feel that is important for our subordinates to see their commanders and leaders when their actions are positive.

Seeing your commander setting the example in every situation is important for our Airman.

These actions do not need to be big or dramatic actions either. It can be as simple as picking up a piece of trash as you enter into a building or attending a community function to show your support as a military member. As you set the example, you may inspire your subordinates to emulate your positive actions.

The most important aspect is leaders recognize we are always being observed, both up and down your chain of command, no matter how big your span of control may be, your actions are under scrutiny.

Always take the high ground in your actions and set the standard; the standard that you want your subordinates to follow and you will prosper living in your "glass house."