Leadership Defined

This week’s post comes from Air Force MSgt Brian Potvin, author of J.E.T. Fuel (Judgement, Experience, Training… check the link!!) and partner of MilitaryMentors. We encourage you to check out his site and his writing, as he’s been recognized by the Air Force for his leadership expertise by PACE (Profession of Arms Center of Excellence), who also post his sound monthly newsletters.

It’s hard to find a common definition of the word “Leadership” nowadays.  No matter how many leadership books you read, you’ll probably not find two books with the exact same definition.  In my opinion, there’s no way to arrive at a hard-and-fast definition, because everyone has a different opinion of leaders, and we all have different examples of leaders we all admire.

To me, a good leader has two main qualities, and they are as follows:

1. Good leaders know how important it is to care for their people, and they actually do it.  You can talk all day long about how important it is to care about your people.  Unless you actually DO IT, you’re not going to be a good leader.  To care for your people, you have to invest time in them.  A LOT of time.  You’ve got to learn about their goals and aspirations.  Learn where they want their career to go. Know what makes them passionate.  Learn about their families.  Ask where they come from.  Invest in learning about them.  This is for several reasons.  For example, you will learn how to best guide them in their current assignment.  For example, if your troop has no interest in making the military a career, then you might want to put more emphasis on preparing them for life after their contract is up by advising them about certification programs or college degrees that will help them get a leg up in the civilian world.  Also, by learning about their family, you’ll understand the potential stressors in their personal lives.  They’ll be more likely to open up to you when something’s going wrong at home, like a sick child, or martial or financial problems.  Most importantly, your troops will see that you care and are taking a sincere interest in their well-being.  My first supervisor in the Air Force was a great example of this kind of leader.  He knew about my family.  He knew my father had Alzheimer’s.  He knew what my dorm room looked like, and went to the chow hall frequently to see what kind of food was available for me and my fellow junior enlisted airmen.  He truly cared about me, and stood up for me when I needed someone in my corner. 

2. Good leaders get results.  I’ve been a senior noncommissioned officer (SNCO) for almost seven years now; that’s about 30% of the time I’ve been in the Air Force.  The main job of an Air Force SNCO is mission accomplishment.  We are charged with leading multiple teams, with the goal of accomplishing the unit’s mission.  If you don’t care about your troops, you might still get the job done.  You might still get the mission accomplished.  But at what cost?  Did you gain the respect of your troops?  Is your work center better off having you in it?  Are your people better people for having known you?  If your answer is anything other than “YES”, you might need to refocus your efforts onto your troops.  All of that caring I talked about in the above paragraph is for a good reason.  If your people know that you care about them, they’re more likely to work harder for you.   You’ll lead your office to greater success, and your people will have respect for you.  The example I have for this is actually someone who did NOT embody this quality.  I once worked for a SNCO who told everyone he didn’t care about our home lives.  He said he couldn’t care less about our families, and that all he cared about was getting the job done.  Yes, we still got the job done, because that’s what Airmen do.  However, he only got the respect that was due his rank, and nothing more.  No one ever came to him with a problem.  No one ever sought help from him.  He was a very ineffective leader, and the office suffered for it.

Everyone has a different definition of leadership.  The two qualities I outlined above are the two most important that make a good leader to me.  There are myriad qualities that I expect a good leader to have.  The two qualities above, however, are the ones that I think are absolutely VITAL to the success of any leader.

It’s so important for us as military members to try to mold, teach, and train the next generation of warriors.  One day we will take off the uniform for one last time.  We need to make sure the next generation of military members know what’s needed to win wars and take care of our people.  Ask yourself, “Am I doing everything I can to make sure my troops are prepared to take my place?”  If your answer is not an emphatic “YES”, I implore you to make a course correction quickly so you can have a positive impact on your people.

The folks I admire the most are the ones who took time to know me and my family.  Those who invested their time in me really made a difference in my career and in my life.  They will always have my respect, and my appreciation.  When I was stationed at Laughlin AFB, TX, my career had a very big setback.  I thought my career was over.  I had a chief and senior master sergeant who took me under their wings.  They cared for me…they showed me that if I did what was expected of me, I could still succeed.  They weren’t even in my organization.  I didn’t work for them.  However, they did what great SNCOs are expected to do.  They saw someone going through a tough time, and they cared for me.  If not for them, I don’t know where I’d be today.  Every day I strive to be that person for at least one other person, and I hope you’ll do the same.

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