TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — You can find leadership lessons in the strangest places.
Some people search high and low, far and wide for mentors and wise sages with the hope of finding leadership enlightenment, the moment when everything in your supervision tool box finds a purpose.
For me, that moment didn’t happen during a weeklong seminar, conference or executive boot camp. It happened moments before a mandatory safety briefing during a video montage used to occupy the crowd before the briefing starts. It was a simple YouTube clip and I almost missed it.
Like many people in the auditorium, I was engaged in pre-weekend conversation and wasn’t paying any attention to the screen. The event emcee was still making script changes and hadn’t given the “turn off cell phones and pagers” warning.
I stopped talking and found myself turned to the screen. The clip played, I listened and I learned. I looked around the auditorium with the same excitement I feel watching great football, “Did you just see that?” I had found something that tied my leadership expectations in a nice and neat, three-minute package. The video clip is titled “Up Time America” by the late Kimberly Alyn, a motivational speaker, and inspired this commentary.
I was taught since basic training that you have the responsibility to take care of everyone who has fewer stripes than you. This is the basis of servant leadership.
Once we allow our own credibility to waver and our integrity to buckle to protect ourselves at the expense of our subordinates, the entire team is weakened.
As leaders, we must be the voice. We must be the shield. We must strive to improve. This doesn’t mean everyone gets a trophy. We also must deliberately deliver the hammer when needed. Our teammates deserve candor and transparency.
Accountability, credibility, resiliency and responsibility are the pillars of great leadership. However, I would say humility is the one trait that supports the trust bridge. The main goal of any supervisor should be to prepare, provide and prevent. Prepare them for the wartime mission by providing all the tangible and intangible things they need to accomplish the mission while preventing them from making the same mistakes you made. We must share our failures and successes for the greatest impact.
Respect those who have traveled the road before you and those who are walking behind you. So often, we are too quick to dismiss veterans’ ideas as experiences built in a different Air Force then turn around and dismiss a junior Airman’s idea because they lack experience. We can’t have it both ways. A true conscientious leader values the input of all.
The easiest things to fix seem to be the things we hold off on completing and then complain that the issue has given birth to more issues. No problem is too small for your position regardless of your pay grade. However, as a leader, you will never know problems exist until they are too large if your people don’t feel comfortable coming to you. I have watched plenty of stubborn, inflexible, one-trick ponies fail because they thought they had “arrived.”
One of the greatest lessons I learned from a dentist was the only thing more contagious than enthusiasm is lack of it. If you don’t love what you do, your people will see it. You can’t be the fat gym teacher and tell your students to run while you live on a steady diet of Krispy Kremes. Your actions tell the tale. How you deliver your message is equally important. If you want your co-workers to display professionalism, teamwork and compassion, show them what it looks like.
We are an all-volunteer force and we know what we signed up to do. We signed up to be an active player in the greatest Air Force, representing the greatest country in the world. Fulfill your obligations to the best of your ability. Your teammates are counting on you. Don’t spend too much time contemplating the obstacles. The ride won’t last forever so make the best of it.
So there you have it, a short lesson on leadership. You can find knowledge in the strangest places. I have never met Kimberly Alyn, but I imagine she is someone who would make an appointment at the dental clinic and show up.