Since the beginning of our Air Force careers, the majority of us have been taught that in order to lead, we need to lead by example and lead from the front.
Today, that has not changed. However, as we all know, it is virtually impossible for all to be in front at the same time, all the time, especially in today’s shrinking Air Force. This is where another type of leadership role is just as important for the entire team — informal leadership. If we play our cards right, no matter what rank we are currently at, every single one of us can lead.
In today’s Air Force we must accept this role for not only our personal sense of accomplishment but more so our responsibility to be part of the most formidable Air Force the world has ever known. Informal leaders may not have the official title or expectation to lead but are unofficially selected by subordinates, peers or others based on the individual’s actions, character and dedication. They do not look at how they can help themselves, but rather how they look out for and encourage others. So, what does informal leadership entail?
Just like a lot of activities, to get the most out of life or work it becomes so much easier if we are able to take our differences and group up with others who have similar viewpoints and goals, and then back each other up and work as a team to reach those goals.
All team members up and down the chain have an integral role in the advancement of the entire team. Each team member should know what they need to do to accomplish the mission and be aware of their professional and personal strengths and weaknesses. They should be able to trust and communicate to their teammates on a regular basis and be willing to give and accept constructive feedback for the greater good of the team’s success. Everyone has a responsibility to help the team progress. By accepting these individual responsibilities within a team, we inherently take on the traits of an informal leader.
Like most leaders, to be an informal leader that we all are destined to be, our job is to ensure we are striving to do things correctly even when we think nobody is looking. We do this not necessarily for ourselves but for all of those we represent, military or civilian, and rely on our honest work or “integrity first.”
In addition, we need to realize there may be personal desires we might have to sacrifice for the greater good of the team, goal and mission. When working as part of a team, it is no longer just about you, it is all about “us” or “service before self.” And of course, to keep us physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally sharp, it becomes essential for each of us to continually improve and relish our individual and other team member’s role(s), which reflect the core value of “excellence in all we do.” That’s right, our Air Force core values are way more than a saying we should know. Believe it or not, it is a lifestyle that cultivates a conducive and productive atmosphere, grooming not only an environment of responsible and resilient Airmen but allowing the growth of both formal and informal leaders at all levels of the chain.
Informal leaders are very important within a unit or squadron as they can directly influence the direction of that unit, for better or worse. When an informal leader does not support the formal leader and their vision, he can potentially cause confusion and function as a barrier within that unit. Obviously, adverse informal leaders who look out for themselves or may not be open-minded to possibly better ways of doing things can and will influence others negatively causing chaos within an organization. Informal leaders that follow the above principles and values generate other positive informal leaders throughout the chain, which can help the organization move mountains.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, society has deemed our Air Force requires us to be leaner. This means in order for our Air Force to continue to be the most formidable Air Force the world has ever seen and protect the freedoms that our society holds so dear, we can only afford to keep those willing and able to help move mountains. Gut check, where do you stand?