One day, one of my Airmen asked me a question, “How do you know how to lead?” My initial thought was to tell him to go watch the movie “Office Space” (one of my favorite movies). However, this simple question really made me think. Let me frame this from my perspective.
I took command of the 56th Contracting Squadron June 18 … almost six months ago. This is my first command and seventh assignment. My prior assignments include instructor, contracting officer, aide-de-camp, industry intern, deputy chief of contracts and executive officer. In only one of those jobs did I have anybody assigned to work for me. So, I’m asking myself, “How do I know how to lead?”
There are thousands of resources available to us to learn about leadership. I’ve read leadership books and have attended leadership seminars. I even went to a school nicknamed “The Leadership Laboratory.” But I realized I learned how to be a leader by observing the people for whom I had worked.
We have all had them … good and bad leaders. I always remember the good leaders for having effective communication, sound judgment and being trustworthy. The interesting thing is we don’t ever talk about the good leaders; we always talk about the bad. Why do you think that is?
Here are the bad leaders that stick out in my mind: the leader who never left his office, the leader who did not know his job and expected me to do it for him and the leader who could not effectively communicate with the squadron. I think we discuss the bad leaders because we had to work that much harder to make up for their shortcomings. In other words, poor leadership caused the unit to suffer.
I did not want to be like the bad leaders. I took good mental notes and learned from those shortcomings. As I took command June 18, I took the experiences from both the good and bad leaders in my career and now lead my squadron.
Going back to my Airman’s question, my response was, “There really is no right way to lead. You can only learn so much in a book or a class. What I have learned is much of leadership is developed by observing those who lead you. You take notes from the good, learn from the bad and apply leadership the best way you know how. You are going to make mistakes, but how you react to those mistakes will define you as a leader.”
I am not claiming to be a leadership expert, but I wanted to share my experience as a first-time commander. Every former commander I have talked to has told me the same thing, “Squadron command is the most rewarding job you will ever have in the Air Force.” I can now humbly say that I agree.