Growing in Leadership

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Todd Joiner
  • 554th REDHORSE director of operations

Leadership is the art of influencing and directing people to accomplish the mission. Well, this sounds easy enough! Is it really a walk in the park? What if you have that task that no one wants to do? How do you make it happen? How do you become that great leader that can handle any situation no matter how small or large? On the surface, leadership sounds very narrow in interpretation but it's actually quite diverse. I say that, because no two styles are the same. It's completely up to you to develop your very own leadership style.

How do you go about developing your own style of leadership? It's kind of like going to the grocery store. You don't just grab a bunch of ingredients off the shelf, throw it together and expect to have a masterpiece the first time. The first shot at it may be a complete train wreck. So the next time, you take some ingredients out, add something else, making it better the more practice you get. It is a simplistic way of looking at leadership, but it's very applicable. To relate this to your day-to-day activities, you watch individuals throughout your career and when you see something that you like or a quality that you feel is beneficial, you put that in your supervisor tool chest. Additionally, as we all know, we have had those individuals that we vow never to be like. Learn from them as well and don't pick up any of those negative traits. It is a work in progress though. I made plenty of mistakes in leadership throughout my 26-year career, but I learned what worked and what didn't.

The most challenging part of leadership is that you can't lead everyone the same way. Don't confuse this with not being fair. Let's face it, if you use the same approach for two different people, under the same circumstances; they will respond differently. No different than when my son and daughter were young. I had to adjust between the two of them or my daughter would still be trying to recover, 16 years later. The key here is to know your people. You have to know strengths and weaknesses. Are they a type A personality or type B? Are they comfortable with the task at hand? The questions could go on and on. But it all goes back to knowing your people. If you don't know what motivates them, you are fighting an uphill battle. You have to find that hot-button item and use it to influence them to accomplish the mission. Sound familiar?

Now that you are have your style developed or at least are well on the way; how do you continue to build credibility as a leader? First and foremost, there has to be trust. If that isn't there, nothing else matters. A saying I like to use is, "An Airman doesn't care how much you know, until they know how much you care." You accomplish this by listening more than you speak. Most of the time, issues can be solved and decisions made with you, as the leader, saying virtually nothing. Listen to what your Airmen and non-commissioned officers have to say, it will pay huge dividends. And when they have a big part in making the decision, they have buy-in. As long as it's safe, doesn't have an additional cost or it's not against regulations, what's the harm?

So now that you have built credibility as a leader, how do you keep it? One of my biggest pet peeves is inconsistency. I'm sure most will agree. Everyone deserves a certain amount of predictability from their supervisor. If you have mood swings or aren't a morning person or whatever the case may be, you can't take that out on the Airman that needs to ask you a question before you have had your first cup of coffee. When your team needs some guidance but they need to see if you growl when they say good morning to you first before they approach you-that's an issue. Additionally, no one likes a hot head. If you can't have an open conversation and communicate without blowing a gasket, then you are an ineffective leader. The reason I say it renders you ineffective is because, you will only hear about the good things going on in the unit and not the bad. That is a culture that will hurt the organization and the mission.

Strong leadership is vital to the success of any military organization. There has to be a culture of mutual respect and trust between the leader and subordinate. This is not only because of mission success but also to continue the development of our force. Our business is unique in the fact that we want to build leaders to take our place one day. Continue to seek out leadership roles and continue to refine your leadership style. Be that positive example and strive to be the leader that no one wants to disappoint or let down.