What is a Leader?

  • Published
  • By Col. Cheryl Gregorio
  • Commander, 97 MDG
Formal or informal, the word "leader" is thrown around all the time, especially within military organizations. During election years, every potential presidential candidate talks about who is one and who isn't, but no one seems to be able to define it. What makes a leader is an elusive quality, much like describing great art, or obscenity. To paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Stewart "I know one when I see one."

Let's try to put it into perspective by defining each letter. It becomes the sum of its parts.

L - Loyalty to colleagues, subordinates, and superiors. Agreement with any of them is not required, but support for their vision, desires, or needs is essential. How many of us recited the Pledge of Allegiance and actually took the words to heart or understood them? It is being faithful to a greater purpose, or keeping the faith that really counts.

E - Excellence in all we do is one of our core values. It is doing the absolute best you can at whatever job you are asked to do - believing you have done the best you can and no one can do it better. We use words like exemplary, matchless, or peerless in our OPRs. You must believe them to make them true. Most importantly, it is doing the best you can when no one is watching; when there is no personal gain except the satisfaction of doing something well.

A - Attitude is everything. You choose your attitude. You choose to have a positive outlook. I know the old joke about alligators in the swamp. It is difficult to remember the job was to clean the swamp, when you are up to your elbows in alligators. If you look around you, have you noticed the people getting the best assignments and opportunities to excel are going to others? Maybe it's because they show that positive, 'can-do' attitude, to succeed in spite of the obstacles put in their paths.

D - Dynamic in the dictionary is 'one that motivates, affects development or stability. General Dwight Eisenhower said "Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it." Dedication is part of the equation as well. Being motivated and committed to make a difference in another's life, or one airman's. That is motivation. That is dynamic, dedicated leadership.

E - Ethical behavior is what you practice every day you go to work. Everyone is watching - from the youngest airman to the most jaded Chief - looking to you for guidance, to set the example. When you break the rules they notice. I recently went to a conference, and ran into a Captain I knew who was in civilian clothes. He chose to not wear his uniform. The rules are very specific. We all know them. They haven't changed. Answer for yourself, what does that say about the example he set? What does that say about his ethics as an officer?

R - Respect for yourself, for those who came before, for everyone. Simply being courteous, saying please and thank you. The best bosses I have ever seen never fail to say both of these words regularly. It is a personal quality that everyone deserves. You don't have to like everyone, but everyone is due respect for their position.

Allow me to sum up my perspective. When each of you succeeds, it's because someone taught you how to think like a leader. Taught you what loyalty is and how to be loyal, to do the best job you can, to have a positive attitude, to dedicate yourself. You may not have noticed but you were taught to LEAD! Formally or informally doesn't really matter. You just need to use your powers for good.