I’ve been in positions of leadership most of my career, and during those years, I’ve learned extensively about the difference, in my opinion, between a bad leader and a good leader. Some of those lessons I learned the hard way, through trial and error and humbly overcoming those mistakes. But most were through observing those I thought to be great leaders whose example I vowed to follow. The following are a few pearls of leadership philosophy that I’ve gathered along this journey.
As a leader, it’s important to know who you are and the values and rules that you will abide by, regardless of the circumstances you face. It is your duty as a leader to both know and openly communicate those values and rules of engagement with the people you lead. This creates an atmosphere of certainty, trust and transparency. For example, it’s imperative that I develop and communicate with my squadron members my “red lines” — circumstances or events for which I have absolutely ZERO tolerance for: DUI/DWI, illegal drug use, sexual harassment and discrimination. By being upfront with these expectations, my squadron will immediately understand that there will be consequences should these red lines get crossed; there is no element of surprise or excuses.
Leaders must lead with integrity, as well as by example. Leading by the “do as I do rather than just as I say” philosophy establishes credibility and reinforces trust.
Good leaders listen without being condescending and willing to hear what others have to say without rushing to judgment. Always seek feedback from your commander, your subordinates and your peers. This 365-degree look provides valuable insight into your leadership style and potential areas for improvement. Also, good leaders are honest and forthright with their people; they communicate openly and often, with their commander, subordinates and peers, to provide that same valuable and critical performance feedback and share ideas.
Leaders must maintain good order and discipline, with a genuine desire to help the people they lead to improve. If reprimand is necessary, do it without anger and relay feedback in a direct, yet respectful way. Remember, it’s the behavior that needs correcting. “Punish in private. Praise in public.” Always hold yourself and your people accountable to a high standard.
Good leaders inspire Airmen to do great things. They give them the values and rules, set the boundaries to operate within, then encourage their people to go out, make their own choices, and give them the freedom to try new things, even allowing them to make a few mistakes along the way so they can learn and grow from those mistakes.
Delegate! Delegate! Delegate! Yes, it would be easier and more efficient to do it yourself, but that doesn’t allow for personal and professional growth for the people you lead. This is probably your biggest role as a leader — to groom future leaders…“Build the Bench.”
Remember, we have a mission to do. Therefore, you can’t be afraid to make demands of the people you lead. Good leaders understand it’s a mistake to be too soft, just as it’s a mistake to be too harsh; you must strike that fine balance. You need to have courage to direct people in the work that needs to get done, expressing belief or encouragement in your people’s abilities, delegate duties, and teach or correct your people along the way. Motivate each individual in your squadron to recognize their potential!
Keep everything in perspective. Don’t rush in to make short-term decisions. Take all the facts into consideration, keep long-term goals in view, put fixes in place today that will benefit the organization and your people both now and in the future.
Lastly, the Commander’s Inspection Program is only as good as the sensors and the operators within it. Engage, monitor and direct the inspection process. Expect your programs to have deficiencies or performance gaps, as it demonstrates you are actively monitoring and improving your processes — “Embrace the red!” Always have cross checks in place — “Trust but verify.” And, I recommend that you have your own squadron CIMB as one means of a cross check so that you can stay informed and current on the health of your CCIP, and be better prepared to contribute to our boss’ own Commander’s Inspection Program.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my leadership philosophy with you. Just like me, I’m sure you have also developed your own thoughts along your own journey as well. I hope that I may have opened your eyes to some new pearls to add to your arsenal.