INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey — As I walk around Incirlik and speak with Airmen or attend professional development seminars, Airman Leadership School or First Term Airman’s Center briefings, I am usually asked the question, “What makes a good leader or what do I have to do to make it in the Air Force?”
If you were to ask that question to 20 different people I am sure you would get 20 different answers, but for me it comes down to three principles. These principles are not the, “winning lottery tickets” or the, “secrets to ultimate success.” These are principles that have served me without fail for the 21 years I have served in the greatest Air Force the world has ever seen.
The first thing a person needs is to care! Sounds simple enough, but when I say care, I mean caring more about the patch above the left breast pocket of the Airman Battle Uniform. For instance, if an Airman cares about the voluntary oath they took to enlist, or reenlist in the United States Air Force, then they should care about the core values. Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in all We Do; these values form our foundation. If a leader cares about these values, applies them to their lives, and uses them to guide their decision making process; they would be a leader others would want to follow. When an individual cares only about themselves, they can become selfish and toxic; these are not attributes of a good leader.
The second thing is to be informed! With the daily changes that are impacting the Air Force, change is life’s only constant. It is important for leaders to be informed; otherwise ignorance guides decisions, which can lead to irrevocable consequences. The Air Force has done a great job of utilizing all forms of media to answer the one-thousand and one questions that arise with recent policy or procedural changes; however, despite this effort, many leaders are uninformed. They expect their commander, chief, first sergeant or supervisor to spoon feed the information to them. There is nothing stopping any individual to be self-informed by using the Air Force Portal, MyPers, or any other trusted information source.
Finally, to act! I cannot tell you how many people fail to act when they are in the best position to take action. It could be as simple as walking by a piece of garbage and not picking it up; this is a failure to act. How about pencil whipping the Airman Comprehensive Assessment? How about walking by someone who is in clear violation of standards or not holding your own Airmen to the standard you levied upon them? Any one of these examples constitutes a failure to act. The United States Air Force has empowered individuals to act and given them the authority to do so; so when in the position, take action!
These attributes, by themselves are useful, but to maximize your leadership potential, they need to be exercised in coordination with one another. If you care, but are uninformed and do not act, your ability to care is useless. If you are informed, but do not care and do not act, then your knowledge is useless. Finally, if you act, but do not care about others or are uninformed; your actions can have devastating consequences. In this new era of the USAF, it will be imperative for all Airmen to be effective leaders. It will be your inherent responsibility to be a leader, but the decision to be a good or bad leader will rest squarely on your shoulders, it is the hope of this old crusty senior that you will be a leader other leaders want to emulate.