A Leader Knows...

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  • By Lt. Col. Christopher Huisman
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A friend of mine and fellow squadron commander recently recommended that I watch a presentation that our incoming Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark Welsh, gave to Squadron Officers School several years ago. My friend had warned me that it was not a short video, almost 90 minutes, but that it would be well worth the time. I'll be honest, when I sat down to watch I was skeptical and thought that I would watch five, maybe ten minutes at most. Boy was I wrong. I watched all 82 minutes in one sitting. It is a truly moving presentation, filled with lessons that any leader could apply. Below are some of the lessons that stuck with me.

Trust your gut.
There aren't any easy answers in some situations. Sometimes there is no book to reference. If something feels like it is the right thing to do, then it probably is. You were put in a position of leadership because your bosses trusted you. If something doesn't feel right, no matter how many people tell you you should be doing something; if it doesn't feel right...trust your gut.

Your people are better than you.
Many leaders make the mistake that they need to be the best at any given task and many think they are. The truth is different. All the people you lead are better than you at something, some are better than you at many things, and a few might be better than you at everything. Don't be surprised or intimidated. A leader's job is to take advantage of their people's skills and apply them to accomplishing the mission. The challenge is figuring out how to lead these people.

Everyone is trying hard...never forget that.
Frustration is the enemy. Leaders delegate tasks to their subordinates and provide them guidance on how to accomplish them. The biggest issue you have as a leader is when your people come back to you with a solution to a problem you gave them and you don't like it. You might get frustrated at them and you let them know it. Before you lose your cool, remember that 99.9 percent of the people you'll work with are trying to do the right thing. If they didn't give you the right answer, it's probably because you didn't give them the right guidance, priorities, or resources, or training.

The only "fingerprints" that last are the ones you leave on your people.
When put in charge of an organization, many leaders want to leave there mark or "fingerprints" on an organization. They do this because they care. They might look at strategic vision, mission statements, facilities or reorganization. However, in many cases these "fingerprints" only last until the next leader arrives. The only fingerprints that last are the ones you leave on your people. Leaders need to spend their time and energy on the latter rather than the former. Make sure the fingerprints you leave are good.

For every person willing to lead, there are hundreds more willing to critique them. When you step out as the lead on an issue in an organization, you are making yourself a target. Others might take the opportunity to take shots and critique. Deal with it. Most that take shots will want to be doing what you are, they just don't have the nerve to.

You won't always be right.
No matter how talented, motivated, or intelligent you are, a leader is never always right and will make mistakes. When you're wrong, tell everyone that you're wrong, learn from it and move on. Your bosses aren't keeping score and don't keep score on your people. Let your people make mistakes and learn from them.

Some days your best isn't good enough.
This shouldn't be a surprise. When it isn't, your people are going to carry you. And the next day when their best enough isn't good enough for them, you are going to carry them. This is the way that a team works.

Being an Air Force Officer, NCO, or Airman means something...act like it.
Everyone who wears the uniform should know it and shouldn't whine about it when they get punished for doing something stupid. Make sure you say this to the people you lead and then hold them to it. The profession of arms is important. You are important and what you bring to your profession is important, but it brings responsibilities with it: legal, moral, and ethical. All of these responsibilities matter and you will not recover from a mistake that falls into one of these categories, because they are not mistakes, they are bigger than that.

Leaders of every grade and position could pull something from General Welsh's presentation, not just squadron commanders. I would highly recommend his presentation to anyone that wants to be inspired to be a better leader. Sit down and give it a view, just don't be surprised if you wind up watching all 82 minutes.