Most of us have had a leadership class of some kind as we continue formal education or complete professional military education. In the process we have been exposed to many different leadership theories and the support behind each one.
The Air Force does a great job of sifting through those and passing on the best parts of each to us in written guidance or lessons incorporated in PME at various levels. One style that really jumps out for me is servant leadership, specifically the empowerment and service aspects. My purpose here is not to give a lesson on servant leadership or define it, but rather show how using it can nurture your Airmen’s professional growth with personal examples.
One of the key virtues of servant leadership is empowerment. This virtue supports the characteristic of committing to the growth of people.
While stationed in Korea, I had an extremely sharp supervisor who could also be demanding. I was selected for promotion to staff sergeant a few months after I arrived. At this rank the scope of responsibility broadens significantly as a direct result of entering the NCO corps. My supervisor recognized I needed to increase my responsibilities to gain experience to prepare me for the future.
To do this he empowered me with ownership of additional tasks, such as running the swing shift. Among other things, I had the ability to give days off and adjust hours. Additional duties included areas I was completely unfamiliar with, like hazardous material. For that task I was responsible for cradle-to-grave accountability of all hazardous materials in our area, which was important considering our section’s mission was producing liquid oxygen and liquid nitrogen.
His leadership allowed me to learn key lessons in taking care of subordinates and accountability for actions and programs. This support of subordinate growth is an important aspect of a military leader’s job. Military leaders must develop their subordinates to eventually replace them. Servant leadership, especially empowerment, is an effective way to do just that.
A famous first sergeant motto is “People are our business, and business is good!” That’s very true. We are here for our Airmen 24/7.
The primary responsibility of a first sergeant is to provide and maintain a mission-ready enlisted force for the commander. To do that, our core value of “service before self” needs to be at the forefront of our thoughts.
While wearing a diamond does mean you get noticed, and often allows you to cut through red tape, it’s not for personal gain. Our efforts are to benefit the Airmen in our unit to ensure they are taken care of appropriately so they can focus on the mission. The long hours and countless trips and phone calls to various base agencies are not to improve our situation but rather our Airmen’s.
As a supervisor, I made it a point to show the Airmen in my section that I truly cared through actions rather than just words. The result was a direct positive impact to our mission. Airmen of all ranks can use this concept for similar reasons and results. Leaders, challenge yourselves to improve something for your Airmen. Airmen, challenge yourselves to improve something for the Air Force, your work center, etc. Sure, we all benefit by being in the Air Force, but our purpose is to serve.
As the Air Force faces further losses of manpower and funds, it is important that we are actively taking care of each other and grooming our replacements. Simply put, caring about our people, our mission, and our future will make a direct impact on the level of success the Air Force achieves over the coming years.