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Great leadership requires the right mindset

Col. James Weinstein official photo

Col. James Weinstein, Commander, 88th Diagnostics and Therapeutics Squadron.

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – What makes a great leader easy to spot? If they were superheroes, they’d all wear capes, right?

Batman, Superman, Mighty Mouse — all capes, all awesome. But great leaders? Well, it’s a bit more challenging to spot them from a distance.

Many of the greats rode horses. Alexander the Great had his famous steed Bucephalus, Napoleon rode Marengo and Ulysses S. Grant saddled up on his trusty Cincinnati. If it’s leadership you want, then a horse you must have.

However; given the lack of base stables, perhaps looking for another defining characteristic is necessary. That is where mindset comes in.

You see, I believe mindset is EVERYTHING, a critical and foundational characteristic of great leadership. If you want to develop your leadership skills, focus on four important characteristics of a leadership mindset.

The power of positive perspective

Great leaders have a knack for seeing situations for what they are: challenging, emotional, hopeful or even a lost cause—and then the magic happens. Great leaders search their knowledge and experience bank for ways to find, express and communicate that positive perspective.

Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller once quipped in battle that “we’re surrounded. That simplifies the problem. They are in front of us, behind us, and we are flanked on both sides by an enemy that outnumbers us 29 to 1. They can’t get away now!”

A great leader can identify the perfect recipe of optimism, courage and confidence that will drive success.

Power of empathy

Spend a moment reading up on Brené Brown’s take on “empathy vs. sympathy.” She posits that great leaders fuel connections and strength in the bonds of teaming through empathic relationships.

It’s the kind of connection you make when you really listen and try to understand what a colleague, subordinate or supervisor is actually going through. It’s the kind of bond that is formed when, for just a moment — you step out of your own shoes, beliefs and ideas — and step into the mindset your teammate is experiencing.

This doesn’t make you weak or soft; it makes you personable and trustworthy. Your teams will be stronger for it.

Power of personality

Every leader has a personality, but not one single trait suggests greatness. Some leaders are introverts; others, the opposite.

What really matters is you be yourself and develop that genuine leadership personality around a foundation of core beliefs that define you and your leadership philosophy. People gravitate toward genuine, and it shows. Just make sure that genuine is in sync with our core values.

As Col. Patrick Miller, 88th Air Base Wing commander, likes to say: Integrity is the floor—not the goalpost.

Power of intelligence

An insatiable desire to learn is a critical trait of strong leaders. Great leaders aren’t caught off guard; they are well read and versed in the experiences of those who have come before.

Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, the former secretary of defense well known for his scholarly and studious approach to military leadership, wisely stated, “We have been fighting on this planet for 5,000 years and we should take advantage of that experience. Winging it…as we sort out what works reminds us of the moral dictates and the cost of incompetence in our profession.”

With all that in mind, I’ll leave you with this. What is YOUR leadership philosophy? What kind of leader do you want to be?

Focus on mindset, jump in that saddle, strap on that cape and get to it.