Are you honing your leadership skills?

  • Published
  • By Col. Ray LaMarche
  • 22nd Operations Group commander
Happy New Year to Team McConnell. We certainly have many challenges ahead of us as we gear up for our continued support of the Global War On Terrorism, the execution of day-to-day operations, and the plethora of Air Mobility Command inspections our wing will face in this year. Our success in the new year will be dependent in part on our ability to accomplish the mission and decisive leadership to guide this wing through these and other challenges. 

Leadership is the essence that makes our Air Force a part of the greatest military force the world has ever seen. It is the catalyst that drives our ability to overcome adversity and to obtain the unimaginable. 

At a recent Airman Leadership School graduation, I had the distinct honor and privilege of addressing the graduating class. In preparing my comments, I discovered an article by Col. Henry W. Horton in which he succinctly captures the essence of leadership as the "Thirteen Traits of Effective Leaders." 

1. The first trait is RESPECT - Leaders must treat all human beings with respect and dignity, in every situation. Whether reprimanding an individual for an error in judgment or thanking someone for a job done well, a leader follows three basic rules:
"Praise in public ... criticize in private,"
"Treat others as you wish to be treated,"
"Don't lose your temper." 

2. EMPOWERMENT - We've all heard the term empowerment before. Colonel Horton describes empowerment like this: leaders give everyone who works for them a piece of rope. The people they want on their team seek out the organization's problems and find out what the boss is concerned with. These people then make a lasso out of their ropes and attack the problems, ultimately eliminating them. At this point, the successful leader gives them a longer piece of rope so they can attack bigger problems. Conversely, the people who have their own agendas will make their ropes into nooses and hang themselves. The effective leader gives these people a shorter rope, or none at all. 

3. ACCOUNTABILITY - Leaders are accountable for their actions and for the actions of their Airmen 24/7. Effective leaders never make excuses; they take the blame when things go wrong, and direct the praise to those who did the work when things go right. Remember, things can & do go wrong even if everything is correctly...this is the premise for Murphy's Law. 

4. LISTENING - Leaders listen to all ideas and are open to new suggestions. A good leader is receptive to bad news, and never "shoots the messenger." To do so will surely inhibit your Airman's ability to communicate with you and guarantees you only hear "bad news" from the top down rather than from the ground up. In addition, leaders view the problems brought to them as opportunities to excel. 

5. SINCERITY - Leaders have a deep concern for people. A leader's words and deeds always convey sincerity. When a leader asks people how their weekend was, or what's going on in their duty section, he or she wants an honest answer. If a problem is raised in the conversation, a leader will always do more research to see what the magnitude of the problem is and determine whether he or she can help alleviate it. 

6. REWARD - A leader guarantees that performers are rewarded...not just the "superstars," but every Airmen that accomplish the mission. Rewards take many forms, including a handshake, a pat on the back, a job well done, a "thank you," appropriate Enlisted Performance Reports and decorations, and nominations for awards. Remember a condition of trait #1 - to praise in public. 

7. DISCIPLINE - Discipline is very important to the morale and good order of Airmen. Leadership is not a popularity contest nor will you be able to please everyone. Administering fair and just discipline can be very difficult. However, it is necessary to address the negative behaviors impacting your unit to not only eliminate then but to serve as motivation for those Airmen who are meeting the standards. 

8. MISSION - Leaders understand that military organizations exist for one reason--to accomplish the mission. Never forget that Airmen make many sacrifices, including giving up their lives for their country, if necessary. While keeping the primary focus on mission accomplishment, ensure your Airmen are taken care of...this applies to their families as well. As the adage goes, take care of the Airmen, and the mission will take care of itself.

9. CREDIT - A leader lives by the credo, "It's amazing what you can get done when you don't care who gets the credit." Leaders are never involved in anything to garner honor and glory for themselves. Any credit they receive is attributed to the Airmen who did the work.

10. COMMUNICATION - Leaders regularly communicate both the mission and their vision to keep everyone focused. While they sometimes use the written word to do this, a true leader is usually visible and communicates face-to-face more than in writing. Leaders also take the time to mentor junior Airmen. They understand they must "grow" their replacements, explain their decision-making thought processes, provide counseling, and give meaningful feedback. Additionally, leaders share their experiences and the lessons they've learned from them.

11. ATTITUDE - A philosopher once said, "Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react." Leaders are eternal optimists with positive attitudes, who focus on the opportunities in every problem. They realize that one needs to learn from the past, but must always look to the future. Positive attitudes are contagious and can mean the difference in mission success or failure.

12. INTEGRITY - Integrity can be defined as doing the right thing, no matter what the circumstances or who may or may not be watching. Integrity is one of the pillars of our Air Force core values and once it is lost, it can never be recovered.

13. The last trait of an effective leader is COURAGE - Webster's Dictionary defines courage as the "mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty." A leader's ability to withstand and overcome difficulties is continually tested each and every day. Airmen look to leaders for the inspiration and fortitude when the going gets tough. Being courageous does not mean leaders will never be scared...many times, both go hand in hand. As Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, America's top ace in World War I and Medal of Honor winner once said, "Courage is doing what you're afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you're scared."

Are your leadership skills honed to a keen edge? Leadership is a necessary ingredient in the successful execution of the Air Force mission. Without it, we're destined for failure. As the Airman's Creed states, we are wingmen, leaders, and warriors.