Leadership sometimes in front, sometimes behind

Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Vaughan
435th Communications Group

***image1***I was extremely fortunate to have some great teachers who always challenged my thought process, prodding and probing into my inner thoughts. At the time, I found myself questioning their motives. Little did I know I was being prepared for tomorrow.

Many times we talk about leadership and what constitutes the perfect leader. Well, to put it bluntly, as I’ve grown my definition of leadership has continued to evolve. Undoubtedly, someone who stands out in front of their people, barking out orders and calling on them to “Follow me!” At certain times and under certain circumstances that is the case. The fact is, however, that most successful leaders spend the majority of their time in the midst of or even standing behind their folks.

One of the truest measures of a person’s leadership is how well they support and take care of their people. Does this mean leaders have to incorporate “group-hugs” into their daily routines? Do they have to complete a daily checklist with their subordinates to make certain all is well with them? Does it mean they need to have weekly social gatherings so their organization will be like a family?

Of course, the answer to all of these questions is a resounding “No.” It does, however, entail creating a working atmosphere in which all subordinates feel their well-being is important and ideas, opinions and other input is valued. In such an atmosphere, all members should feel comfortable broaching any work-related subject with the leader, and vice versa.

For a leader, it includes caring about and impacting a subordinate’s professional development, growth and maturation. It entails how a leader reacts to the inevitable mistakes their people will make, how much guidance is provided when assigning unfamiliar tasks and the degree of patience exhibited when unexpected delays occur.

Former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Ronald Fogleman said something that has stuck in my mind for the past several years: “You do not have to have ‘commander’ or ‘supervisor’ in your job description to be a leader. You do not have to wear stars or bars or a lot of stripes to be a leader. You can be a leader any time you want to make things happen and are willing to step up and do it, but you cannot do that if the organization you are part of does not give you the environment in which you can do that.”

As our great Air Force evolves we take the responsibility to grow our Airmen who will someday be thrust into leadership positions.

Professional military education programs teach our folks to be self-confident and determined. In order for these traits to have the utmost impact, they must be tempered by a genuine concern for those individuals entrusted to a leader’s care. Sometimes this will involve being out in front of the troops but, in many more cases, it will involve unobtrusive, behind the scenes support of them to be a true leader.