Put yourself first to lead effectively

  • Published
  • By Col. Joe Turk
  • 721st Mission Support Group commander
Greetings Knights! Over the last year, wing leadership developed and promoted a new wing mission and vision. This vision, "America's most innovative and disciplined space wing - leaders, globally postured to dominate the high ground," is supported by our four priorities: Support the Current Fight; Lead into the Future Fight; Lead and Take Care of Our People; and Innovation and Discipline. We also developed a strategic plan to help both us and the wing capture the intent of these priorities and track wing-level initiatives. We set out to ensure leadership approach and style aligns with the wing goals and that we are all, to use a common analogy, "on the same page." I encourage you to evaluate how you can tie your personal leadership style to the wing's goals as well, but (more importantly) I want to ensure that your leadership style is "healthy."

Leadership is the common thread tying our mission, vision and priorities together. Each of us has developed our own personal philosophy of what it means to be an effective leader and how we want to lead. Today I'd like to discuss a unique, and I think critical, aspect of leadership that integrates into the concept of resiliency - the need to take care of ourselves first. At first glance, this may seem selfish. We generally don't think of a good leader as putting himself first. However, I feel a leader must take the time to ensure they are fit before they can lead effectively.

So how do you make yourself fit to lead? We are all different, but I consider myself fit to lead when I am able to take care of the mental, physical, social and spiritual aspects of my life. To ensure you are mentally sharp, commit to a professional and personal development program. The chief of staff's reading list is a good place to start. The list contains suggested readings for all ranks covering Air Force history, mission, doctrine and leadership. This list represents an outstanding source for professional knowledge - and many of the books on the list are primary resources, written by the person who experienced airpower history firsthand. I suggest you devote a short period of time each day to professional reading. You will be surprised with both how much you are able to accomplish over time and how much you learn.

Another way to stay fit is to be active in the professional organizations associated with your career field. Not only do these groups enhance your professional knowledge, they also offer social and networking opportunities to build your professional contact lists. Social support, both within and outside the workplace, is a key aspect to personal and leadership fitness. There are many leadership lessons to be learned in non-profit organizations (such as Boy Scouts and Habitat for Humanity), even if they aren't associated with your career field or area of expertise. As an added bonus, real life social networks also provide an outstanding source of stress relief and resiliency.

We all understand the importance of being physically fit to lead our people - the Air Force emphasizes physical fitness by requiring semi-annual testing and incorporating the results into our annual performance reports. Although many units allocate time to work out together, it is our professional responsibility to ensure we are fit. During our busy duty day, it is easy to sacrifice our physical training time. Examine your schedule to determine the best time to work out and make this a "must pay bill" for yourself and keep this commitment. Look for recreational opportunities that integrate physical fitness as another means for getting in your physical training time to ensure you are fit to lead.

Finally, spiritual health is an important component of being fit to lead. Taking the time to practice your religious faith provides a solid foundation for spiritual strength. Another aspect of spiritual wellness ties into the social sphere: being truly connected to family and friends. In our hectic pace, we often neglect spending quality time with those people most important to us. One often overlooked opportunity for quality time is having dinner together - how many times a week do you sit down as a family to have dinner and talk about your day? Set aside a day to a have lunch or dinner date with your spouse, or your kids, and keep it - it will pay huge dividends in the future as your family grows closer. Find activities you, your family and friends enjoy doing together and make them a priority. You will find that spending quality time with your family and friends will energize you and make you more effective as a leader.

In order to execute our mission to dominate the high ground for America and its allies, the Knights need leaders who understand the wing's priorities and goals. Even more so, though, we need leaders who are fit to lead and take care of our people. I encourage each of you to evaluate how you can become mentally, physically, socially and spiritually fit to lead. By putting yourself first, you can become a more effective leader for your people.