McConnell member offers leadership lesson

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Robert Stroebel
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing chief of safety
My first supervisor had a favorite quote, "The most important thing to being a great leader is keeping the followers who hate you as far away as possible from the ones who have not made up their minds yet."

The problem was, he said it with a straight face, and, at the time I was one of the ones who hadn't made up his mind yet. I think he helped me finalize my thoughts.

So, as a brand new follower hoping to be a future leader, I already had my first leadership lesson. I realized being a follower is the most important part of being a leader. Let's face it; even the highest Air Force four-star, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Norton A. Schwartz, is a follower. He has a supervisor, just like you and I do.

Every event you are involved with, every decision you or your supervisor make, every time you turn around, something else happens to add to your "leadership bag of tricks." Don't let those little lessons pass you by. Take note in your mind when you overhear a conversation at the water cooler. Open your ears, and just listen.

Being a follower in the Air Force is such a great way to learn leadership lessons. In the first seven years of my Air Force life, I had 17 different supervisors, if you include my deployments. I learned a different lesson in leadership from each one.

Take my advice, and listen to each and every supervisor you get the honor to serve under in our great Air Force. It doesn't matter if they are poor, fair, good or great leader. It doesn't matter if you only learn from them for a few months, or are lucky enough to have them for a year, or more. What does matter is you ensure the time you spend with them is quality time.

Ask them questions about education opportunities, or future jobs, or career counseling. Chat with them about some of their past supervisors who made a lasting impression on them, both good and bad. Talk to them both at work and at play. It makes a difference.

Social gatherings provide some of the best opportunities to find out what the "person behind the leader" is really all about. Don't throw away a chance to see how your supervisor operates away from work. A good follower does not learn everything there is to know about a being leader by merely working 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and going home. Leaders change and adapt to different environments, so followers need to follow in different environments as well.

Every day, and in every way, we are all leaders and followers. We don't lead all of the time, and only the poorest followers never take their turn up front. Being active on both planes is the key to being all around effective leader.

Being an attentive follower is the cornerstone of becoming a great leader. But, don't forget, true leaders are just followers with a whole bunch of motivated people behind them.