In my opinion, leadership is most effective when it is personal. In a large organization, it is difficult to have a personal connection with everyone. Your personal leadership sphere of influence may be limited to one or two layers deep, but if they in turn made personal leadership a priority, it would drill down to the lowest level of the organization. It is worth your time to sit down one on one with your sphere and discuss topics like why they joined the Air Force, where are they from, favorite sports teams, hobbies, future goals, current concerns, family situation, etc.
It is important to know what makes each individual tick. Not everyone responds to the same techniques. If you think about it like a personal fitness trainer, some people need to be brought along slowly, some people need positive reinforcement, some people need to be fired up, and some people like to prove others wrong when told they can’t do something. Personal leadership operates the same way where no one technique will get the most out of 100 percent of your people. You can frame your priorities within the context of each of your people and then set them free to execute the mission.
In general, I have found that people respond best to someone who they know cares about them and respects them as an Airman. Leaders are put in leadership roles to serve and not to be served. The golden rule still works in today’s Air Force. Respect works far better than fear. We should respect our Airmen enough to offer kindness, not weakness, while still providing honest feedback both good and bad. As leaders, we cannot succeed without knowing that we need others to accomplish the mission. Your Airmen will feel more comfortable asking for help from someone who knows them versus a “stranger” in the organization. The last book I read was “Love Does” by Bob Goff. One of the ideas that stood out to me was that with people, you don’t always need a plan; you just need to be present in their lives. Your personal leadership plan involves your personal time and that is where great things can happen.
While getting to know your people is a priority, knowing yourself is just as important. Self-reflection is a continuous process but one of the keys to personal leadership. You need to think about who you are at your core and how you are leading your Airmen. Your humble assessment of yourself will assist in setting you on the right vector.
Dream big and prepare your Airmen to do the same. The biggest downside to personal leadership is that it hurts that much more if the person fails, but I believe that they are less likely to fail and the reward far outweighs the risk anyway.