Be yourself

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Thomas Reardon
  • 54th Air Refueling Squadron
When it comes to leadership and what it takes to have a successful military career, there is no shortage of material to draw from. Many principles overlap with minor tweaks here and there based on the author's perspective. I have learned much over the years through schools and experiences, but I thought I would focus this article on something a little more basic: just be yourself.

When one takes command you attend various courses depending on what level of command you are going to assume. These don't instantly make you a better leader, but rather give you tools that will help you during your tenure. These courses have been affectionately called "Charm School", and while the one I attended didn't make me any more charming (impossible task from the start) there was one tidbit that rang true with me. One of the guest speakers boiled it down to this: "Remember to be yourself, because being who you are got you to where you are today". This applies across the board with officers and enlisted, mid level supervisors to commanders. While moving up the career ladder brings added responsibility and certain trappings to select positions, remaining true to yourself will help you go far. Our airmen (big A) today are extremely intelligent and will see right through you if you pretend to be something you are not.

During the past 17 ½ years of my career, I've always been a firm believer that you have to respect the rank, you don't have to respect the person. That part has to be earned. I'm sure every one of us can think of a supervisor or commander that, while we outwardly showed them the appropriate customs and courtesies, we cringed on the inside because we knew it was an act on our part. I know people are going to show me respect because I wear silver oak leaves and a commander's pin. I want them to respect me for my actions, how I carry myself, what I represent and what we've been able to accomplish as a unified group of professionals. Now I know I'm not perfect -- no one is -- and being able to admit faults and mistakes will go a long way in earning your airmen's respect.

When I took command, one of the things I tried to stress was career progression, while important, has never been what truly motivates me. Yes, I checked the appropriate boxes along the way but I simply tried to do the best I could at whatever job I was given. I can look back over the years and see how I got to where I am today, but I was not focused on being a Lieutenant Colonel squadron commander back then. Increased rank isn't the most significant symbol of success in life. Sooner or later we all reach a pinnacle of sorts in our respective careers. When it is all said and done, you are successful if you've stayed true to your beliefs.

Everyone who joins the Air Force comes with different upbringings, life experiences and even reasons to serve. But there is the common bond: we serve something greater than ourselves. Just remember while doing that to be yourself!