WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio - Being a leader comes in many forms and styles — some learned through academics, some from those around us and some gained through unique experiences known only to you.
As we navigate our careers, we build our proverbial kitbag to arm us for adverse situations we can face as leaders. I would like to share insight from my personal leadership kitbag I have gathered from the past 25 years of being a leader in different agencies, units, career fields and deployments.
To me, the three most important tools are showing up every day, being the leader your unit or team needs, and remaining consistent and fair.
Show up every day
To show up every day means we all have good and bad days that come from external factors and personal stressors in our lives. Those factors and stressors cannot influence how you as a leader handle daily situations or influence your decision-making.
Of course, this is easier said than done because the past has a harsh way of leaving scars.
Hopefully, you have fellow leaders and wingmen you can trust to be a sounding board to help coach and mentor you on days when it is harder to show up. Trust them and reciprocate often to be the best present leader you can be for your teammates and organization.
Be the leader your unit or team needs
Being a leader isn’t just yielding authority to your team to make them get tasks done. It is understanding what they need to accomplish the mission, but more importantly, what they need to thrive as teammates and grow personally and professionally.
As leaders, we aren’t just accomplishing a mission; we are mentoring and coaching every single day to make one another better and grow the Air Force’s next generation of leaders to replace us.
Every teammate has something they need from us as leaders, whether it is appreciation, empathy, compassion, discipline, to be challenged or trained, or just simply to be heard. This takes time and is a deliberate process requiring dedication and investment — but I can promise you it’s worth it to see teammates flourish and be better wingmen.
Be consistent and fair
To me, this is the most important tool because it contains the first two tenets, builds standards and becomes the foundation for how you are perceived.
Being a leader is not easy and we don’t always get it right. It is important to remember that we are not perfect, nor are the wingmen on the teams we lead. A leader cannot expect a zero-defect mentality. It will tear a team apart.
You can, however, lead with empathy to be fair and consistent in how you deal with situations, both good and bad. We have all heard the adage of “praise in public and admonish in private” — those are good words to live by. But if you are not consistent and fair, it won’t matter.
Standards matter and enforcing them allows organizations to grow and be better.
Putting tools into practice
So how do you implement these tools? Simply through deliberate leadership with the daily interactions we have with teammates around us. I affectionately remind those on my team that this is also known as informal counseling and being present.
Counseling has taken on negative connotations in recent years, when in fact, counseling happens all the time and we don’t even realize it. Counseling is informal and formal and can be verbal or written.
It is simply the communication of an event, incident, achievement or performance standard to convey outcome or the revectoring of a teammate. It is a snapshot in time and always an opportunity to use the three tools to improve or sustain.
Bottom line — being a leader and good teammate is all about having a positive relationship built on two-way trust and respect. I say two-way because it takes two to have effective communication. This takes work and ebbs and flows, but the work is worth the result.
I leave you with this question: Are you showing up each day being the consistent and fair leader your organization or team needs — if not, why?