Servant leadership

  • Published
  • By Col. Kimerlee Conner
  • 21st Mission Support Group commander
In the profession of arms, we continually focus on and study the concept of what it means to be a leader. While there are numerous definitions of leadership, many of us associate leadership with someone who takes charge, leads from the front, and is appointed for a specific role.

Although these concepts are correct, true leaders are not necessarily those specifically appointed to a leadership position. In my opinion, true leaders are those Airmen who inspire others around them to be better. There is no rank or job requirement to be a leader; each and every one of you has the potential, and this is applicable to military and civilian alike.

In my career, I have seen airmen first class who have more leadership potential than some who have been in the service for 10 years. Throughout our careers and lives, all of us have experienced various leadership styles with varying effects and impact. Leadership styles are wide and diverse. Not only are specific leadership styles important, but we have to know when to incorporate specific styles to achieve the greatest effect.

The leadership style I would like to focus on and better understand is servant leadership. Servant leadership is often described as focusing on the needs of others first, above your own personal desires.

Robert K. Greenleaf coined the term servant leader as, "The servant-leader is servant first... It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead."

The first thing we have to realize about servant leadership is - it's not all about you! In order for an organization to succeed, you have to empower your people and give them the tools to succeed. Once you have given your people the tools to succeed, get out of their way and let them lead and innovate. An easy way to empower your people is to listen to what they have to say and to have an awareness of the organization. When you actively listen to people, you let others know you truly care about them, that you support them in their ideas and decisions. Listening does not specifically mean verbally, it also means knowing your people and "listening" to their body language. Servant leaders care and focus on the development of every individual. Along with many of the traits of a servant leader, awareness is important and one of the keys to success. Awareness means you notice when people are not themselves, you have the ability to step back from situations and look at the indicators from a more strategic and holistic view.

Our profession is one that requires us all to be servant leaders in one aspect or another. No matter where we came from, or what our experiences were growing up, we all have one thing in common: we raised our right hand and took an oath to support and take responsibility for something greater than ourselves - the defense our nation. Implicitly, we have dedicated ourselves to putting our country before ourselves. Servant leadership means you care most about the people who you work with, and would do anything to help them succeed. When you are a servant leader, you truly think of the needs of others first and may not even recognize your own needs because you are focused on taking care of those around you. Servant leaders help others feel like they matter, and their inputs and ideas are important to the betterment of the organization - also key to fostering innovation. Not only will a servant leader empower you, but they will create a unity, a brotherhood or sisterhood within the organization.

I would like to reiterate that you do not have to be in a specific leadership position to be a leader. Servant leadership means you put the needs of others above your own, and you do it proudly. One of the most recent and powerful examples of a servant leader is characterized by that of Airman 1st Class Matthew R. Seidler. Seidler joined the United States Air Force Nov. 9, 2009. After joining the Air Force, he entered and completed the incredibly difficult explosive ordnance disposal course at Eglin AFB, earning the coveted EOD badge. On Jan. 3, 2011, Seidler was assigned to Peterson AFB where he trained daily to become proficient at disarming the enemy's number one weapon of choice, the improvised explosive device. On Jan. 5, 2012, he displayed the ultimate sacrifice of a servant leader and gave his life heroically and valiantly serving his country in Shri Ghazi, Afghanistan.

As a member of EOD, Matt openly embraced the idea of protecting others and putting others' well being ahead of his own in order for coalition forces to effectively and efficiently engage the enemy. Not only did Matt care for the safety and well being of others, but he also helped foster a brotherhood within any organization to which he belonged. His example of servant leadership is one that we can all emulate, no matter our rank. Servant leaders care for the betterment of others and the organization; Seidler portrayed this in admirable fashion, and we will always remember him for it.

Although servant leadership may sound a bit passive for a military organization, elements of the style are most certainly relevant to what we do. A servant leader looks to the needs of the people and asks how he or she can help them to solve problems and promote personal development. The intent of servant leadership resonates in a saying you may have heard, "take care of the people, and the people will take care of the mission." Thank you all for raising your hand and choosing to serve ... I encourage you to be servant leaders.