Many of us have seen the best and worst in leadership throughout the course of our careers as Airmen. Usually we can think of two names, one good and one bad, that personify each bound of the leadership spectrum. This reality leads to the fact that even though we are called to be leaders in military service, not all of us have shown that capability. However, leaders are NOT born, but rather developed through a combination of training, mentorship, and opportunity. This is why all of us can be leaders, not just a select few. But being a leader is a choice – a choice between staying in your foxhole or running toward the sound of the guns.
There is a plethora of individual characteristics that make up the ideal leader – technical competence, attitude, professionalism, charisma, intelligence, and boldness just to name a few. But in my opinion, there is one key ingredient that is needed to become a true, enduring leader. That ingredient is selflessness. Do you truly believe that if you take care of those around you, you will be rewarded? Should you expect any reward at all? I will tell you this – a true servant leader doesn’t care about rewards. The servant leader knows that selflessness is eternally fulfilling while selfishness is hollow and temporary. Oh, and here’s the kicker – you don’t have to be a specific age or wear a specific rank on your sleeve or shoulder to be a servant leader. You don’t even have to be best in your profession, you simply have to live and act for the benefit of someone else. The only hard part to being a servant leader is that you must fully commit yourself to others each and every day.
When I became a part of the 355th Force Support Squadron in December of 2014, I had no credibility whatsoever. I was a black sheep – a fighter pilot amongst a squadron of 582 services and personnel Airmen. However, I knew I didn’t need any technical competence; the Airmen only yearned for one thing – a servant leader. I quickly developed a very simple leadership plan. I would do the “blocking and tackling” necessary to allow the squadron’s Airmen to execute the mission with as little impediment as possible. I knew this would cause me to be unpopular, harsh, and relentless, but I willingly made that choice. See, I quickly learned that you don’t really work for your boss, but instead you work for your people. We talk all the time about carrying your boss’ vision to fruition, but what about the vision of your subordinates? Every Airman has a voice and every Airman has needs. Remember who you truly work for as a servant leader.
I will leave my time on active duty with the thoughts of a former US Army Ranger I met at a military hiring conference. He explained that when he was on active duty and people asked who he was, he would reply, “I am an Airborne Ranger”. After he hung up the uniform he realized that being an Airborne Ranger wasn’t what defined him. He instead chose to define himself as a husband, father, friend, and leader. I challenge each of you who have read this to look inside yourself and determine who you truly are and what defines you. I hope you all desire to add “servant leader” to that list. If you do, know that there is no bigger fulfillment in life than to live for someone else.