Leadership is more than a title. It is a way of life

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Danielle Sease
  • 21st Comptroller Squadron

Leader, manager and boss: What do these terms mean, and how do they affect those around them?

A boss is typically a person who gives orders and expects them to be carried out in any way necessary to get the job done. This is usually done with little to no supervision. A boss may not take the time out of their day to know and understand the people who work for them. This may cause workers to feel unappreciated, degrading quality of work.

A manager gives orders, similar to a boss. However, the tasks are usually done with a high level of supervision. A manager typically guides people to the solution they want, providing consistent, frequent and negative feedback on the tasks at hand. This can cause stress to workers, again degrading quality of work. Without the ability to use trial and error when completing tasks, workers may not improve their skills.

A leader is someone who exhibits all the positive qualities of a manager and boss. A leader gives orders, but works with their subordinates to complete tasks, providing advice or guidance when needed. These types of people take time from their schedule to mentor, develop and invest in their Airmen.

You may have heard the term “toxic leadership.” In my opinion, this is an oxymoron. If a leader is toxic, then they are not exhibiting the characteristics of a leader. This person may be knowledgeable in their field of expertise, but they diminish the efforts of those who are still learning and growing.

Of these categories, I consider myself to be a leader. To be an effective leader, one must be willing to stand in the front and lead their unit to their destination and exhibit the essential core values of integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all you do.

Being a leader is not the sole responsibility of flight leadership, commanders, superintendents and first sergeants. An Airman straight from technical training can provide leadership. I believe it is important to be the person who anyone can come to in a time of crisis or of joy. Do not push people away when they need you. Effective leadership cultivates your Airmen’s enthusiasm and potential for success. Toxic leadership breeds negativity and hampers Airmen’s ability to complete the mission or understand their place in achieving the mission.

Over the last 15 years of my career as a civilian and as an officer, I have come across many types of leaders. I have had bosses, managers, leaders and even toxic leaders. I have also had my own trials and tribulations becoming the leader I am. I have learned from examples of what to do and what not to do. If you have met me, you would know that I am a highly positive person who embraces challenges and opportunities. One of my most well-known traits is my desire to increase morale and leadership opportunities in the workplace.

Some priorities I have made in my leadership are knowing my Airmen, knowing their workload, and investing in their development. It is important to show an honest interest in your Airmen’s life struggles and victories. Invest in your people; let them take the time to take classes to improve their professional and personal development.

You may have been told your whole career that failure is not an option. Failure is most certainly not an option anyone would want to pursue. However, someone once said that in order to succeed, you may fail, but if you have to fail, fail forward.

Trial and error is the continuous effort of failing forward. This type of leadership is one to emulate. There are too many times that leaders express disdain for those whose actions result in failure, in turn failing to see the signs of a career falling apart. We as leaders must not only praise the action of accomplishing the mission, but also acknowledge the road that was traveled to succeed. Success is not a straight line from A to B. It is a curved line with twists, loops and backtracking. This path is necessary when growing in your career.

It is important to know your workload and the workload of your Airmen. Overtasking a single person can make a workplace hostile. One Airmen may feel as though they are more overburdened with additional duties while others have none. I understand that many leaders want to give responsibilities to their “shining star” because they know they will get it done and done right. However, doing this can cause a rift in the work center between those over and under-tasked. Your go-to subject matter expert may be struggling and need help, but they might not want to ask for help out of fear of reprisal or other retributions. Take the time to ask if they are ok and if you can assist them with a task they are struggling with.

Some tips for other leaders, which I have adopted in my practice:

  • Do not make off-duty morale events mandatory or “highly encouraged.” This leaves the impression that these events are indeed mandatory and that there will be admonishments if mandatory fun is not had.
  • Invite families to morale events, and have events in family-friendly environments. More people will attend these events. It is important to remember that we are a family, and we need to act like it.
  • Plan a ‘day in my shoes’ where an Airman can be flight chief or flight commander for a day. This also works for a shadowing program. Have Airmen from different sections of your work center shadow a different work center. This will help alleviate the hostility of those who feel they are over-worked.
  • Have off-site events for team building or training for real world scenarios. Off-sites are also beneficial when taking your unit to another organization for mission briefs. This helps to better understand each other’s role in supporting the mission.

Each week, in our staff meeting, we share an inspirational quote regarding challenges, obstacles, and progression in the work place. One of my favorites comes from Winston Churchill: “Mountaintops inspire leaders but valleys mature them.”