Commentary

July 18, 2014

I am second: USAFWC command chief bids farewell after 30 years

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Chief Master Sgt. Robert A. Ellis
U.S. Air Force Warfare Center command chief

Chief Master Sgt. Robert A. Ellis, U.S. Air Force Warfare Center command chief, poses for a photo outside of the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center headquarters building at Nellis Air Force Base, N.V., July 16. Ellis, who will be retiring after serving 30 years in the Air Force, has held various duties ranging from squadron to major-command level. His stateside assignments include bases in South Dakota, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Virginia and Colorado. The Chief also served overseas in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Japan and Turkey, and has deployed in support of Operations Desert Shield, Allied Force and Enduring Freedom.

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I am second.

As a senior enlisted leader I am often asked about my opinion or views on leadership and what makes a good leader.

As I’ve reflected over the past year in preparation for my transition [to civilian life], I continue to come back to the same principle: make the other people in your life the priority and not yourself.

When we put the needs of others first an amazing thing occurs; people begin to trust you as a leader because they realize you sincerely care about them and their family. It’s that level of trust that gains you respect and influence to inspire, motivate and become a compelling force on the attitudes, actions and behaviors of those you lead.

I am second.

When you make others the priority, they ‘give’ you the earned authority that will propel you and the mission to heights that those who lead from legal authority can only dream about. Let me say with full disclosure, this is not a natural posture for humans, because we innately think about our own needs and desires first. That’s where discipline and accountability with leaders you trust comes into play.

Most aspiring leaders think they have to have all the answers when they step into a leadership role, but the opposite is true. You simply need to surround yourself with experts and peers you can trust to use as a sounding board for advice and wisdom. No true leader makes decisions in a vacuum if they want to be effective; those who do usually want to impress someone. Leadership isn’t always about impressions; in fact, it’s often very humbling for those who are affected because you have to make decisions that are often unpopular so you can’t be concerned about what people think of you. Hence, the term, ‘it’s lonely at the top.’

I am second.

The reality is, most leaders have the expertise they need in the room to be successful, but they fail to connect and tap into that expertise because they’re too busy being first and espousing their own wisdom instead of listening to the other expertise in the room. Often time, the best ideas are shut up inside of the most junior personnel because the environment we set is not conducive or inviting to innovation. But, if we want to continue to be the world’s premier air, space and cyber force, we must innovate by inviting fresh ideas from all levels.

I am second.

One of the biggest benefits of being second is the reward. Most think it’s rewarding when you accomplish something as an individual, and it is to a degree, but I’ve learned that the greatest reward of leadership comes from serving others.

It took me many years to understand the true value of placing the needs of others before mine. I have served in many positions, at many levels, and have been recognized with numerous awards and plaques. I appreciate the individual recognition but after the presentation is over and the new day rises, I’ve found the most gratifying and fulfilling thing I can accomplish as a leader is to invest in the success of others.

It has indeed been an honor and a privilege to serve alongside the true heroes of America. As I transition, I thank each one of you for the job you do to serve our Air Force in the business of defending the freedom and ideals of the greatest nation on the planet! Continue to stand shoulder to shoulder, trust and rely on each other and you will never falter and you will not fail. Always remember first, ‘I am second.’




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