Leading with Air Force Core Values

  • Published
  • By Col. Travis Harsha
  • 721st Mission Support Group and CMAFS installation commander
On the essence of leadership, retired Gen. Colin Powell said, "Leadership ultimately comes down to creating conditions of trust within an organization. Good leaders are people who are trusted by followers."

This echoes our first Air Force core value, Integrity First. A leader must have unquestionable integrity to elicit trust, respect and confidence in them, critical for others to truly follow them.

In Gallup polls, the United States military routinely ranks as the top institution in American society for which people trust and have confidence. As Airmen, there's an inherent trust we have in each other based on our core values and shared sacrifice, and holding those that stray from them accountable. Many take this for granted until they get out of the service. Many veterans state one of the greatest things they miss of their time in the military is being with people they could trust with their life and who served selflessly knowing the ultimate price they could pay for doing so.

To build trust as a leader, Powell said you must serve selflessly, give your followers the training and resources they need to do their jobs and be prepared to take the risks with them. This echoes our second Air Force core value, Service before Self. As an all-volunteer force at war, Airmen know the sacrifices they have to make to serve, including potentially the ultimate sacrifice, which sets us apart in the profession of arms. With such committed professionals, leaders must serve their Airmen selflessly to take care of them so they can take care of the mission. With increasing fiscal constraints, leaders today are forced to make tough decisions to cut personnel, many of whom have sacrificed much, for the good of the service. For those cut or facing cuts, remember we are an all-volunteer force subject to what is best for our service over ourselves.

Finally, a leader must always do their best to inspire others to do the same, echoing our final Air Force core value, Excellence in All We Do. On excellence, the late legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden said a lesson he learned from his father was, "Never cease trying to be the best you can be, because that's under your control. If you get too engrossed and concerned with those things of which you don't have control, it will adversely affect the things over which you have control." Wooden defined success as "the peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you are capable."

To lead our all-volunteer force today and tomorrow in our profession of arms, we must live and exemplify our Air Force core values. Your example, for better or worse, will influence your subordinates' thoughts, actions and behavior. As Wooden once said, "No written word, nor spoken plea, can teach our youth what they should be. Nor all the books on all the shelves; it's what the teachers are themselves."

Always do the right thing. Put service before self and strive to be the best in all you do.