WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio - What does it take to be a great leader? It is easier than you think: Hold the standard, lead with integrity and be open to feedback.
As I sat in the movie theater at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, waiting for the 27th Special Operations Group commander to speak during his first commander’s call, I wondered what to expect. I was a brand new officer, having just commissioned from being enlisted a month earlier and was hoping to get something beneficial out of his brief.
The brief lasted under five minutes. I learned he was a man of few words and did not expect a question if we really did not have a question ... no one had a question.
However, on his way out, he said, “The standards you set are the corrections you don’t make.”
That statement has stuck with me since that day.
I pride myself in following the standards and ensuring others do as well. This is such a simple way to lead by example, a very important aspect of being a great leader. The Air Force has regulations for a reason; they provide us the expectations of what is considered correct for military standards.
So why do we allow people to walk around and break those standards? Why do we as a majority not make the corrections?
“To be honest, I don’t know the female hair regs that well.”
“It’s not that big of a deal. They can still do their job.”
“I don’t want to be the bad guy.”
“Someone else will make the correction.”
These are among the excuses I have heard as I made corrections or asked one of my teammates why they had not done so. It should never be about “being the bad guy.” It should be about a standard, and a great leader can help fix that perception.
Standards are not just about dress and appearance, though. Early on in our military careers, we learn “integrity first” as an Air Forces core value.
In my opinion, it’s the most important one. I can only hope every Airman out there feels the same and holds true to that saying.
When I ask one of my air traffic controllers a simple question — “Do you know your stuff?” — I am trusting their integrity. I am about to put an Airman into a position to control aircraft. Their job is to protect that aircraft, the people inside it and airspace around it.
Their simple answer of “yes” ensures they are not putting the lives of anyone in the air or on the ground in harm’s way.
Being a leader should be considered an honor. Great leaders earn the respect of their peers. But it is not always easy; it’s demanding and requires time, effort and a lot of responsibility.
Great leaders have to make tough decisions. Being a leader is hard. Being a great leader is even harder.
Lead and listen to your Airmen and personnel. You, as a leader, set the standards. If you show up on time, work hard and advocate for your team, your team will follow and set the same standards. But if you show up just to collect a paycheck, that will also be evident and your team will follow suit.
Being a great leader is not about leading blindly; you must listen. Take feedback your team is giving and listen to what you can improve on — leaders are not perfect. Ask questions, but truly listen to their answers and take into consideration what they need or want.
Being a great leader means you can admit you do not know everything.
As I sit in a leadership role at the 88th Operations Support Squadron, I learn every day how to be a great leader. I also have been a subordinate to not-so-great leaders. I watched and learned as a young Airman what I did not want to be in a leader.
That is not saying I have not made mistakes in certain situations. However I can look back and realize how to improve.
Ultimately, anyone can be a great leader, but only you can make it happen.