Is there a special recipe for leadership?
In today’s Air Force we struggle trying to find that special recipe to get our teams to perform at their top levels of efficiency. As technology catapults us into the future and new leadership philosophies develop through the halls of Harvard and Stanford, we still rely on the one thing that cannot be imitated by computers or taught in class – personal relationships. Is a dash of development, two sprinkles of inspiration, two cubes of communication and three lumps of standards enough to create a strong leader?
Our fighter wing provides many opportunities to develop Airmen and share our experiences to better prepare young leaders for the challenges they will soon face, hence, “a dash of development.” A lot of time is spent setting up professional development courses, mentoring opportunities and more. Unfortunately, a portion of our leaders at Luke spend an exceptional amount of time to provide those opportunities.
For example, the Lightning Leadership program, where fellow Thunderbolts struggle to get members to attend the sessions. Why is that? In my opinion, this happens for a couple of reasons.
First, many followers have overlooked the personal responsibility of taking an active role in their own development. By avoiding these instances, we are shirking our duties as professional Airmen. As a follower it is our duty to make the time to pursue professional development. This small act would reflect to our Airmen the importance of continued self-improvement.
Secondly, I honestly believe the target audience for professional development sessions should view the sessions as a mandatory requirement. Often, there may be some arm twisting involved to get Airmen to attend. If the attendees do not feel the need for the mentoring event, it is very difficult to get them on board. These are the struggles we have with deliberate professional development.
One may ask, “How do I inspire someone to go to a class or session that he is reluctant to attend?” Unfortunately, there is no clear answer for the “two sprinkles of inspiration.” If anyone knew how to teach someone how to inspire others, we would be sharing that “magic spice” repeatedly at professional development courses throughout the Air Force.
The bottom line is you can read every leadership book and attend every seminar for the next year, yet only come away with some strategies for effective leadership. You will not come out of those experiences with the ability to inspire your team. Just like you can’t teach someone how to feel empathy while counseling a subordinate, you can’t teach inspirational behaviors.
Leadership 101 tells us to “be honest.” I would say, first, you must be honest with yourself. If you are not inspiring people, you should recognize the signs. Don’t get discouraged, there are other ways to inspire your subordinates by concentrating on what you can do. If you are not inspiring your team after many attempts, try other methods, like setting and enforcing clear standards (three lumps of standards), effectively communicating your commander’s vision (two cubes of communication), and recognizing your subordinates’ and team’s accomplishments. By displaying these key leadership ingredients, the natural leaders on your team should encourage the others to get on board because you have communicated the standards, your unit’s vision and your appreciation through recognition.
We have many young leaders who are waiting in the shadows for the chance to lead from the front. We should let them do so by empowering them to inspire the others. Not all leaders are inspirational, but the only way it makes them less of a leader is if they don’t know it. Take an active role in your own development, know your limits, your leadership abilities and be honest when evaluating how subordinates respond to your direction. If your efforts aren’t working, engage with your natural leaders and empower them to inspire your team.
Our Air Force heritage is rich with warriors, heroes and leaders. I reflect back to the days when I was a senior airman working for Tech. Sgt. Robert “Jar” Jarmillo. He was probably the most unpolitically correct person on the flightline, but he treated us like his sons and daughters. I don’t think he ever read a book on leadership and probably barely got through his speeches in the NCO Academy, but man, what a leader! We would have followed him to the end of the world and his legacy lives on in the Airmen that he led. Did he adhere to the leadership recipe? Most would say, “No, not in the least.” Frankly, it was in working with men and women like Sergeant Jarmillo that I realized there is no special recipe for inspiring, developing, or leading. It takes more than a list of standard ingredients to elicit the act of being followed.
The best approach is to just be honest with yourself, keep searching for your recipe and be the absolute best Airman you can be.