“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more & become more, YOU ARE A LEADER” — John Quincy Adams
I cannot begin to write what truly encompasses a leader.
I cannot tell you how to check a bunch of boxes and then suddenly you’ve become a leader.
A leader does not earn a master’s degree or sew a badge on their chest saying “look at me, I’m a leader.” They do not magically hold a high position in the Air Force, in the civilian sector or even in a political realm by just falling into a leadership position.
In fact, a leader does not even have to hold a special position, like commander, president or CEO.
To me a leader is grown through years of experiences, good and bad. A leader learns through education in classes, on the job, and out in daily encounters of everyday life. A leader learns how to lead by having mentors that bring out the best in them and drive them to want to succeed and do better; thus, making a mark on this world no matter how big or small.
What I can tell you is what a leader is not.
One of the scariest phrases I’ve continuously heard throughout my career is “we’ve always done it that way.” What is even scarier is when this phrase comes out of a leader and it is your boss, or someone within your chain of command.
Unfortunately throughout my career I’ve heard this more than once … AND from someone in a leadership position. We are not in the profession where we can accept such a mindset. We are supporting and defending the constitution of the United States. Our Airmen, daily, are at the forefront of danger and risking their lives and others for the safety of our nation’s freedom. Change is truly a constant and something that I think is underestimated often, but it is also something so crucially required to gain trust within a team or unit and therefore succeed to crush your mission.
Until you accept change, you cannot be a productive and efficient team member or even think about leading that team. Until change is embraced to make our programs, processes, and everyday mission better then we will never have the ability to overcome our adversaries. Does doing things the same as you always have allow comfort and some stability? YES … But, I challenge you that it does not allow our force to grow and in turn our people, our Airmen, and the minds that are building a safe place for our children’s generation and their children’s generation.
To accept change you must be brave … have courage and strength to overcome what may not be “the norm” or the most popular decision. To accept change you must allow yourself to fall or fail before you rise and succeed!
A few years ago I embarked on a new journey for myself personally. I took a rigorous 6-month, 200-hour training course to become a yoga instructor.
I know what most of you are thinking … here comes the peace, “let’s om,” hippie discussion. I can tell you this training was the furthest from any of these things. What it did do was allow me to be more open to change and become more resilient, something as Airmen we all need work on … daily! It has truly allowed me to grow as a leader and approach challenges with a different mindset.
Prior to taking command, this training really got me into thinking about how I could incorporate the goodness I received from this training to help others, and ultimately lead others with a better-rounded “trifecta” of their mind, body and spirit.
This training taught me as a type A personality, extremely meticulous pilot to be vulnerable … to be more humble … to listen more … to not judge a situation without gathering all of the facts … AND to accept CHANGE, even when it is hard.
Ultimately as a commander your number one priority is to accomplish your mission and lead your people to do it anytime, anywhere. But, I stress that to make this happen, our individual Airmen must be able to operate at their 100 percent.
What do I mean by 100 percent? It is not the same for everyone. Being your 100 percent today is different than what your 100 percent was yesterday or will be tomorrow. But if we practice ways to ensure on any given day our airmen are at “their” 100 percent it must include the mind, body and spirit. Look, you don’t just go out and run an 11 minute, 1.5 mile for your fitness test (well most of us). We PRACTICE! We practice for weeks, maybe months to gain that extra 30 seconds to ensure we get a 90 percent and don’t have to test again for one whole year. That is stressful and hard. Over time as we age … yes, we ALL do it … that 1.5 mile run becomes more challenging. That waistline takes more work and self-will to say no to desserts, sweets, and other fabulous things. You must CHANGE your “practice” over the years. The same concept applies to your mind, your profession, your unit’s mission, the way you train and execute, and ultimately the way you lead.
As a leader you rely on your people, you must be willing to accept change which inherently has risk, and you must be able to promote change. Sometimes this requires you to do something uncomfortable and forces you to step out of your comfort zone.
Effective leadership doesn’t start with “we can’t” or “that is not the way we’ve done it before.” You must begin with communicating change, being open to others’ opinions, and then committing to a desired outcome or goal.