The potential to lead & succeed

by Lt. Col. John Frazier
86th Maintenance Group

The Lesson.

Early in my life, I noticed there were talented, healthy, able-bodied and intelligent bums roaming the streets of my neighborhood in Philadelphia, Pa.  I’m not referring to people who fell on hard times temporarily — I’m referring to people who seemed content to live their life as bums.

According to my adult family members who knew some of these people personally, they were brilliant thinkers or athletically gifted at one time in their lives.

These bums always had some unsolicited advice for us young kids growing up and we would listen. However, no matter how profound their statements, the fact that they were healthy, able-bodied, smart or physically gifted bums resonated more to me than the words of wisdom coming out of their mouths.

I thought to myself, “How does an able-bodied and talented person end up being a bum?” My mother explained that she believed those individuals she knew in that situation had potential to succeed in life, but they failed trying to overcome personal weaknesses or struggles. Over time, their private failures became public. Fast forward to the present, we all know or heard stories of a handful of leaders at all ranks and levels (military or private sector) who have failed spectacularly in public.

I can’t help to think that those public failures in some cases were preceded by private failures — struggles in life in a specific area that was not dealt with over time.

The life lesson for me is: I am no different than the “bums” in Philly or those leaders who have failed publically if I am not able to obtain private victories in specific areas of my life to which God has given me the ability to

Do Good.

Years ago, at a squadron commander’s course, the commander of Air Combat Command told us soon-to-be squadron commanders he was going to give us “only” two words worth of leadership advice: “Do good.” Taken literally, those two words are powerful.

Of the many leaders who have mentored me over the years, all strived to do good by being the best person they could be. In doing so, they inspired me. These leaders led their life from an inside-out approach.

By inside-out, I mean they established patterns of success in their private life. They overcame personal challenges and attained personal goals which, over time, manifested in extraordinary levels of public success.

Though “doing your best” is an overused and very basic concept, taken seriously and applied consistently, it is a powerful method to achieve the greatest good.

Lead the way.

While doing “good” is the foundation for effective leadership, equally fundamental is actually being a leader. During my first tour as a squadron commander, my wing commander commented to us commanders that being a good person and being a leader are two different things.

He went on to say a good way to tell if you are leading is to see if anyone’s following you. If no one’s following you, you are not leading.” In the days after he made this comment, I overheard some of my colleagues confounded over the simplicity of his statement and discussing the potential deep and hidden meaning. Maybe they’re still debating it.

For me, his statement was brilliant in its simplicity. How do I know if I’m a leader?  I have to be doing my best (do good) and human beings have to be following my lead to accomplish something positive.

Tough questions that you can answer for me.

What am I doing to be the best person I can
be? Am I winning my private battles? Am I living up to my full potential? Am I leading others to do the same? As a leader, what role will I play in turning the tide of alcohol-related incidents at Ramstein? As a leader, what am I going to do to end sexual assaults in my Air Force? Who’s following me?