Respect as a leader

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Leslie Best
  • 17th Mission Support Group superintendent
In my tenure as an enlisted professional in the United States Air Force, I have seen many types of leaders and I have definitely formed my opinions on what is good leadership and what is not. That being said, I would like to briefly focus on a criterion that begs the question, "Are you a respected leader?"

Too many times I have seen leaders, at all levels, depart a section or unit with great things said about them, along with that all important decoration pinned on their chest. Some of the praise that is heaped upon them by their superiors would have one thinking "how is the Air Force or the unit going to go on without them?"

Meanwhile, the Airmen in the trenches are shaking their heads and breathing a sigh of relief that the person is leaving. Now I ask you, is that the type of memory you wish to leave in the hearts and minds of those you were responsible to lead and mentor? I hope your answer is no and you agree that one of the best ways of judging a leader is by the measure of their people.

Do your Airmen only follow out of obligation to a military cause or do they genuinely wish to please you because they see a true leader depicted by your word and your actions? Based on this, and assuming you wish to be a leader of people and not just on paper, I wish to explore what I view as some plausible ways to be viewed as a respected professional leader.

Be honest with yourself. Everyone has some type of hidden agenda as to what motivates them to perform the way they do. In the Air Force, most of us are driven by the need to make higher rank or to enjoy the responsibility of a position. In this quest we sometimes get caught up in trying to ensure we look good to our superiors so that the annual OPR/EPR shows the things we want to be said about our performance. While this is a worthy goal and reflects the good quality of ambition, it can become detrimental if it becomes the consuming desire.

Your Airmen will suffer as a result, and as such, will easily see through your facade of claiming your just mission oriented. This excuse is generally where subordinates get used and abused to ensure the leader gets that all important carrot for paper glory.

I believe if you are honest with yourself and realize that you do have an agenda or goal of this type, it greatly helps you to properly manage your leadership abilities to ensure people become a part of doing a great job and not just an asset to use for an end result. The more you learn about your Airmen and the more you learn from your Airmen, you will find they are the most important aspect of your career and create the lasting memories that will carry you through a lifetime.

Use consistency in your leadership. Leaders must apply discipline in their walk and be consistent in how they enforce standards in an organization. A leader must strive to maintain self discipline and, above all, must practice what they preach. In addition, they must continually apply these standards evenly, across the workforce.

Policies and direction should be well known to their subordinates and consistently practiced. Leaders cannot afford to let personal bias play a role in how they treat an issue. Favoritism is easily perceived and subordinates are continually on the watch for it in the leadership walk. A good rule to remember is "familiarity breeds contempt." Being subjective in a situation becomes a rarity instead of the norm, when consistent leadership is properly applied.

Make your word your bond. The way you treat your lowest echelon in the unit ought to be the way you treat the highest. A leader must provide open, honest and prompt answers to questions and issues. If that is not possible due to the situation, a leader must let their Airmen know to ensure they are properly informed or given the response they need. Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no.

Telling an Airman that you are working on an issue that affects them personally while knowing you cannot provide them the answer they are hoping for because you have been told as much, only delays the inevitable and if your Airman finds out, a leader is perceived as weak and indecisive.

Do not be afraid of telling your Airmen the truth when you have it even if it causes anger or frustration. In addition, make no deals behind closed doors that affect your folks and then when you emerge, you try and sell them something else. Deceit is usually uncovered and trust is most surely lost. Again, practice what you preach.

You are not on anyone's side, except the Air Force side. Be a professional and do not use your leader as a fall guy. You know the type; they come back from a closed door meeting with "I would have given it to you but the commander, superintendent etc... said no". That is weak and unprofessional and leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of those you are responsible to supervise.

Take ownership. Be possessive about your Air Force. Get angry when you see someone who treats it like just a job or with lack of respect. Hold yourself and those around you to a high degree of professional expectation. Correct those who would bring that level of expectation down. Remember, the United States Air Force did not become the best in the world from celebrating mediocrity.

Recognize those who perform at the level of superior performance and mentor those who do not. And for the sake of your Air Force, do not reward average performance as if it is superior. Not only is it a slap in the face of those who lead from the front and earn the recognition, it also weakens our Air Force.

Leadership is not just a "state of mind" or how much "passion" you might have for your career or position. Like everything else that is worthwhile, it takes discipline and consistent work to be truly successful and is built from the time we first put boot to ground and must not end until we get those final orders.

Remember, that 70 percent of this nation's young population between the ages of 18-26, does not meet the requirements to join this great institution. Please, let us not waste opportunities to professionally train and influence this elite group.

Take ownership and make this your Air Force.