Being a visible leader

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Lt. Colonel David Illsley (Courtesy photo)

In thinking of a workable, relevant leadership philosophy, I try to keep things simple and stick to the Air Force core values as a starting point for my own leadership rules.

My first rule is to be honest.

You must be honest with yourself. Know who you are and, just as importantly, who you are not. Not all of us are transformational leaders. That’s OK. Just be yourself and people will recognize that.

My first two squadron commanders were very different personalities but both were effective, caring leaders who took care of the people who took care of the mission. Both inspired loyalty and high performance from the unit. You need to be forthright with the people who work for you. Be honest in your praise and evenhanded in your criticism. Resist the urge to be popular and liked, and you will be respected for your moral consistency. However, being authentic does not excuse you from having to show a positive front even when you don’t feel like it — be positive.

If you feel like you are not a natural leader but are thrust into a leadership role, adopt a positive attitude and it will show more naturally than you may realize. You need to see the glass as half full as often as possible if you expect your people to be able to view problems as opportunities. Negativity leads to a defeatist mindset where every speed bump is seemingly insurmountable, where “No” becomes the default setting instead of “How can we get to yes?”

Positivity and negativity are both contagious, so which would you hope to infect your organization? Bad things and tough times hit every office/unit/wing, etc. Adopting a positive outlook doesn’t make hard times disappear, but it can definitely help kickstart healing for everyone involved.

Finally, no matter your personality type, your people need to see you — often.

My third rule is be visible. Don’t become tied to minutiae and a slave to TMT, SharePoint and email. Technology is neither inherently good nor bad, but it can give us excuses to hide at our desks or on our phones. By walking around and seeing your people in their workplaces, you’ll gain a greater understanding of how they’re really doing — their day-to-day challenges and successes.

Management by Walking Around — it’s a thing. Think about the best leaders you’ve worked for, do you remember their penchant for closing out tasks ahead of schedule, or impeccable email grammar? I’m guessing no. Regardless of workplace or personality type, our favorite leaders get to know us, the mission and live the core values.