Are people born with natural leadership traits or are they created? Is this ability based on position, rank and/or even character? Do you believe the Air Force has an effective career progression plan in developing leaders? Although leadership is defined in many ways, the best definition heard to date and a myth is that leaders are born.
Short of the leadership police standing post at the maternity ward, leadership is people who are nurtured, educated, trained and empowered to develop the appropriate traits in which to become great leaders.
We systematically characterize the leadership capabilities of senior NCOs and officers as either being an effective or ineffective manager or leader. We do this through the evaluations process, but I would venture to say that this is a reactive approach. How do we calculate true leadership? In most cases, we do this in passing unless an individual seeks guidance. Do we ignite all leadership qualities from members regardless of rank or position to help build all levels in the Air Force or only the top echelon?
Although it’s necessary early in a new career, we do not typically get around to developing our junior NCOs until they are testing for master sergeant, molding them for subsequent ranks. It is all too certain that character should be assessed and addressed in the earliest stages of our military careers in an effort to build stronger leadership over time —leadership at all levels! Leadership at all levels is defined by our ability to develop Airmen regardless of position, age or rank to have leaders intentionally staged all the way from airman basic through general.
Warren Bennis, Ph.D., describes leadership as “getting people to want to do what needs to be done.” Leaders motivate and inspire those around them to willfully move in the right direction by satisfying their human needs. Leadership requires us to think outside the box and refine social acceptance to a goal that is beyond individualism.
I will introduce a few:
Staff Sgt. McFadden was a basic military training instructor. After an effective shake down, she was somehow able to bring a flight of 60 Airmen together as a team for six weeks. She was so influential that the females assigned to the flight adopted her hairstyle. She exuded purpose in building the first stage of teamwork.
There was Willie Upshaw, security police, who taught faith and patience to unit members, knew the people inside and out, allowed them to do their jobs and gave them support when and where needed. The chief listened to others, knew his capabilities and shared them with others.
We cannot forget Lt. Mark Slik teaching cross-talk and follow-through with obligations, who tapped into the raw power of physical training to build a team that aligned individual objectives with those of the organization.
Let us not forget Craig Pollock who had high expectations in what seemed to be an expendable job, held high standards of those who worked beneath him and rewarded those who stayed focused on the end result – the team.
Each scenario identifies specific leadership traits, although simple, considered important by the Airman who observed and valued these traits so strongly that he followed and mirrored these examples. It wasn’t the specific grade or duty position. It was a set of skills which made each of these individuals a leader.
Through all the chaos and daunting tasks of today’s work settings, we must find purpose and reason to obtain and sustain excellence in the world’s most powerful Air Force. It is imperative that leaders are nurtured, educated, trained and empowered to help guide others to move in the right direction equipped with the right set of tools. We must realize there are leaders at all levels. So, when you become a leader with the ability to motivate and inspire others, the final reward is to sit back and watch teamwork unfold.