Medical Commander reflects on what make an effective leader

  • Published
  • By Col. Sharon Hunter
  • Commander, 97th Medical Group
Webster's dictionary's definition of a leader is "one that leads or guides; one who is in charge or in command of others; and one who has power or influence." Former Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Ronald Fogleman once said, "I don't think you have to be wearing stars on your shoulders or have 'commander' in your title to be a leader. Anybody who wants to raise his hand can be a leader any time." I could not agree more.

So what makes a good leader? That question has been the subject of much discussion and study, but I believe there are certain qualities and characteristics that are essential for anyone to become an effective leader. While not all-encompassing, here are a few for you to reflect on.

Good leaders care about the task at hand and the people around them responsible for the mission - they have to be fully engaged! Leaders are often the first ones to arrive at their work section and perhaps the last to leave. Why? It's not only because they have a passion for their work, but it's also because they're willing to help those around them to ensure mission success. Whether they spend extra time training or helping a co-worker, or work to better understand their responsibilities, good leaders at all levels want their duty sections - whether an element, flight, squadron, group or wing, to be the best. I don't know of any effective leaders that are satisfied with mediocrity. Most will challenge their co-workers, subordinates and in some cases, even their bosses, to be better.

So much has been written about servant leadership recently. While I fully embrace it, this concept is not new to good leaders. For example, in the field during World War II, Army officers were often the last to go through the food line to ensure their soldiers had enough to eat. Good leaders have always realized the value of the people responsible for completing the mission and they work hard to ensure their subordinates have the right tools, resources, training and education to be successful. In addition, a servant leader's responsibility doesn't stop at the end of the duty day. Often times the needs of co-workers or subordinates can spill over into their private lives, and good leaders will always be willing to take that extra step to be supportive and caring.

Good leaders also embrace change. Whether it's an Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century process improvement or an entirely new program implementation, leaders have to be especially adaptable in today's dynamic environment. Despite this, we have all seen or studied leaders that work diligently to protect the status quo. In fact, history is replete with examples of militaries perfectly prepared for fighting yesterday's war. With today's innovative and highly-connected world changing at an even more rapid pace, it's imperative that good leaders be highly adaptable to the environment around them.

President John F. Kennedy once defined good leadership as "grace under pressure." Sometimes the stresses of leadership can test even the strongest and most able, but your people deserve and warrant calm and steady leadership, especially in times of chaos. You will find that people respond to rational thought and direction much more effectively than emotional outbursts. Their respect for your guidance and direction will only grow.

Leadership is a privilege. Leaders must never be arrogant or abuse their authority. They must always do the right thing and never breach their integrity. While there are many other traits of successful leaders, I hope you take a moment to reflect on these qualities, as well as your own regardless of your rank or position, because, as General Fogleman so clearly stated, anyone can be a leader.