The ABC's and 123's of Leadership

  • Published
  • By CMSgt Robert Rodewald
  • 97 Mission Support Group Command Chief
During my 22 years serving our Air Force I've had the opportunity to work for numerous leaders and supervisors, some great, some not so great. But looking back I've learned a great deal from both. It was the "great" who showed me exactly what I wanted to be, and the "not so great" who showed me what I didn't want to become. I'd like to share the six common traits or actions each and every one of the great leaders possessed, leaving a positive lasting impression on me and surely scores of other Airmen. Now I know what you're probably thinking - "how will I possibly remember all six of them?" My answer is to recall the basics we learned when we first started school, the ABC's and 123's. This is how I remember what I call the "ABC's and 123's of Leadership."

The A is for ATTITUDE. Your attitude will set the tone for your organization. A leader's positive attitude can become contagious and spread quickly affecting everyone, but so can a negative one. In my experience if an organization suffers from low morale it can be traced back to attitude, and more specifically a negative attitude of leadership. General Patton once said, "You are always on parade." This quote is very appropriate when talking about attitude. It is easy to have a positive attitude when everything is going great, but what about when things are less than perfect? Dr. Martin Luther King said, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." I urge you to pay close attention to this - our Airmen are watching.

The B is for BEHAVIOR. Your behavior, positive and negative, will influence those around you. I remember sitting in a staff meeting as the meeting leader became upset and began using a far too popular four letter expletive. As the meeting progressed and this individual continued using it more and more, it was only a matter of minutes until the other leaders in the room began using it as well, lending support to the theory that group behavior will most often mirror that of leadership. In a memo dated July 7, 2010 titled "Setting the Standard for Professional Behavior," General Stephen Lorenz, Commander, Air Education and Training Command, highlighted the importance of professional behavior in the workplace. In this memo he wrote, "Anything less than courteous and professional behavior in the workplace is corrosive to team work, undermines our combat capability and limits the ability to efficiently accomplish our mission." As you see from these comments, failing to maintain a professional standard of behavior can result in mission failure, and as Airman we live by a creed in which we swear to "never falter and to never fail."

The C stands for COMMUNICATION. Effective communication is critical to mission accomplishment. Communicating upward to our superiors and across to our peers is very important, but providing timely, accurate, and relevant information to those we supervise and lead should be more important. There's a saying that "no news is good news" I would also say for many us that "information, good or bad, is sometimes better than no information at all." Also, remember it's easier to talk with people when things are going wrong, if you have also talked to them when things are going right. The time to try and communicate with those you lead is not after a significant emotional event or when they are facing disciplinary action, it's before.

Now that we've covered the ABC's let's move to the 123's.

ONE. This is the number of chances you have to make a first impression. It takes just a quick glance, maybe a few seconds, for someone to evaluate you when you meet for the first time. In this short time, the other person forms an opinion about you based on your appearance, your body language, your demeanor, your mannerisms, and how you are dressed. With every new encounter, you are evaluated and another person's impression of you is formed. When most of us think of first impressions we think of meeting the new boss, or maybe the impression on a first date or the first time we met our future in-laws, but what about the first impression we provide to those we lead? This should be treated with equal importance since first impressions can be nearly impossible to reverse or undo, making these first encounters extremely important, for they set the tone for the relationship to follow.

TWO. We have two ears and one mouth. What this means is we should probably be listening twice as much as we talk. Effective leaders listen to those they lead. Our Professional Development Guide tells us that listening is the most neglected of all communication skills. Research shows most of us spend 7 out of every 10 minutes we're awake in some form of communication activity, and of that time almost 50% is spent listening. Please note I said "listening" and not "hearing." Listening, as opposed to hearing, involves not only receiving the message, but also ignoring distractions and paying close attention to the speaker, assigning meaning to the message, and last of all remembering what was said for the purpose of later recall. My father used to say, "if you're talking you're not listening. Stop talking, listen, and you'll learn more." Sometimes it can be a difficult task to listen, especially when you don't agree with, or want to hear the answer.

THREE. Three represents our three core values of; INTEGRITY, SERVICE BEFORE SELF, and EXCELLENCE IN ALL WE DO. Great leaders exhibit all three. These values are the glue that holds us together as professional arms bearing service. Be what you expect from those you lead. Do not set a standard or expectation for anyone which you can't or are not willing to uphold yourself. If we want Airmen who possess INTEGRITY, put SERVICE BEFORE SELF and strive for EXCELLENCE IN ALL THEY DO, then we must influence them with our positive (A)TTITUDE and (B)EHAVIOR while maintaining a line of (C)OMMUNICATION that promotes open, honest information exchanges and mission accomplishment, the ABC's. In addition, provide a positive (1)st impression for all to follow and emulate, listen to them with (2) ears, and influence behavior and adherence to our (3) core values through our example, the 123's.

I've been very fortunate to have been led and allowed to follow some very positive and influential leaders. Our Air Force expects its leaders to shape, mold, and grow the Airmen of today and tomorrow. The leaders of today and tomorrow are also charged with keeping our Air Force the best trained, most respected, and highly lethal aerospace force on the face of the planet for decades to come. This is our mission. The future is boundless and our potential is limitless. Always be proud of what you do. Be proud of who you are. And be proud of who and what you represent, our United States Air Force.