Servant leadership has a special place in my heart. Throughout my career I have been blessed by many servant leaders who invested time in taking care of and developing their Airmen. These leaders are strong senior NCOs who mentor thousands of Airmen across multiple commands. They always have kind words, smiles on their faces, a warm greeting, and a heartfelt question about your wellbeing, and if you reach out to them, believe me, they will be there for you.
These senior NCOs also demonstrate an iron fist when it comes to upholding standards, rules and regulations, but this doesn’t mean they stop caring about you. If you have a setback, they hold you accountable, they tell you the consequences you will face and how you are going to overcome them. One of my favorite leadership quotes is, “The day Soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” — Gen. Colin Powell.
Caring for your Airmen requires time — time that is precious, and there never seems to be enough of. Not enough time to listen, to talk, to teach, to show, to mentor.
We have all seen the memes of the juggler trying to balance career, school, family, fitness, friends, etc., and we laugh because it is true. Much is demanded of us because we are Airmen and we can make it happen.
I hope that in the midst of all the juggling, we find the time to care for our Airmen, because if we all care for those within our reach, we can save more than one starfish.
As the parable goes: One day, an old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one. Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, “I’m saving these starfish, sir.”
The old man chuckled aloud, “Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?” The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the man, said, “I made a difference to that one!”*
*Adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 — 1977)