Every Airman is a leader

  • Published
  • By Col. Kimerlee Conner
  • 21st Mission Support Group commander
While there are many definitions, leadership is generally defined as the art and science of influencing and directing people to accomplish the assigned mission. The definition speaks nothing about positions held, but is more descriptive of the process of leadership. In today's environment of diminished resources and ever more challenging missions, we need more leaders who can influence and direct people towards mission accomplishment. Every Airman is vital to mission success.

It does not matter what your career field or your rank is, each and every one of you has the ability to be a leader. We all learn about formal and informal leaders, those that are designated the role, and those who naturally fall into it. As an Airman, you are a leader -- every one of you has that capability. Regardless of where we all started out in life, and there is a vast difference in our demographics, there is one thing in common between us -- we all made a decision to raise our right hand and make a commitment to something larger than ourselves, to wear the uniform and to serve our nation. Sadly, there are fewer and fewer of us willing to do that, and less of our country's population who understands that choice, responsibility and sacrifice.

As each of us took an oath and chose to serve our nation, there is something we all came to expect of one another. We all understand that each of us strives to live by our core values; Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence in All We Do. Knowing that other Airmen live to this standard gives us an expectation of their behavior and creates a common bond between us.

Today, more than ever, we need Airmen to commit to the Air Force as a way of life -- not to think of it as just a job. We need Airmen who embrace it as a profession, one they should be incredibly proud to serve in. We need Airmen who live by our core values and who set, lead by and hold others accountable to our standards.

This is going to seem really insignificant; but it is a useful illustration of how small things do matter. How many times have you been out right before reveille or retreat, been driving along when the music started, stopped the vehicle, turned off the radio, and paid respect as the music played? Now, how many times have you seen individuals in uniform sprinting for their vehicle, hiding in doorways, or otherwise trying to avoid saluting or being slowed down? I'll bet you have witnessed this quite a few times.

I provide that illustration to ask -- if you were that individual's supervisor and you witnessed them deliberately avoiding doing the right thing, what would you do about it? Would you chase them down in your vehicle before they leave the parking lot? Call them at home later? Wait until the next duty day and call them into your office? My fear is that your honest response would be to do nothing and to not address the issue.

If you let this go, what else are you willing to ignore? Providing feedback and holding people to our standards is a critical piece in development and accomplishing the mission.

Feedback goes both up the chain and down the chain, and it is an area that supervisors and subordinates must continuously work on. It's all about feedback -- initial feedback (setting standards and expectations) and conducting the follow-on feedback (how well have they met those expectations). If you were to dust off your little blue book -- Air Force Core Values, on the first page you would see: "Integrity covers several other moral traits indispensable to national service." The two moral traits I want to point out are Openness - (Professionals of integrity) "... seek feedback from all directions to ensure they are fulfilling key responsibilities," and Responsibility "a person of true integrity acknowledges his or her duties and acts accordingly." These two traits represent aspects of feedback -- giving it and receiving it.

Being responsible to meet your supervisor's expectations means you need to be professional and accepting when you receiving feedback -- whether it is something you want to hear or not. Conversely, if you are a supervisor, you need to have the moral courage to challenge someone who is sprinting to their vehicle when retreat is playing. Not giving feedback could easily be perceived as accepting the act -- sometimes when we don't say something, it communicates even louder than when we do. By providing feedback and correcting actions, you are helping everyone. Most people come to work wanting to do well and succeed -- you can help them do that by giving them the feedback they need to continue to improve.

As stated at the beginning of the article, every one of you has the ability to be a leader. By providing and being receptive to feedback, you can influence accomplishment of our mission. By upholding standards and our core values, we distinguish ourselves as Airmen who are capable and credible and a part of the finest and most capable Air Force in the world!