Learned leadership

  • Published
  • By Kenneth Wilson
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Maintenance Operations Division
 Leadership, in 500 words or less, WOW! How do you encapsulate such a dynamic and important subject in that small amount of space? Do they lead from the front or push from the rear? Do they issue clear, concise direction or vague, rambling dissertations?

Leaders are a product of their upbringing and life experiences. Air Force mentors in a leadership role bring a different set of life experiences to the table. These experiences make them who they are; family, education, mentors and on-the-job experiences all play a role in how they approach leadership.

As future leaders go through life, they observe how others carry out their tasks. They choose styles they like, reject others and form the basis of how they will lead.

This should be a cautionary note for today's leaders: you are setting an example, either good or bad. Someone is always watching. That is why it is so important to be aware of the long term results of your actions.

Effective leaders do just that, lead. They are out front showing the way and setting the tone. Effective leaders show the purpose for the action requested and set the goal. People will follow when they see a purpose and there is a discernible goal. Theodore Roosevelt said, "People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. The leader leads, and the boss drives."

Leaders provide clear instructions on their expectations to ensure all parties are on the same page and working towards a common goal. Trying to interpret a vague, half formed idea usually leaves the followers frustrated and the leader's intent not met. Colin Powell once said, "Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand."

After serving this country as a uniformed member and as a civilian for nearly 42 years, it is safe to say that I have seen my share of leaders, both good and bad.

The last 17 years working on the A-Team have been especially enlightening. Every two years we have a wing change of command and a new leadership style to observe. The mission and job remains the same but the way the new wing commanders accomplish that job is as varied as their backgrounds.

Wing commanders bring their own style of leadership to the job. The ones who utilize their experiences, lead from the front and ensure everyone in their command knows what is expected of them are usually very successful and go on to wear stars and demonstrate their talents on a bigger stage.

Let me end with a quote from one of my favorite figures in American history, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who said, "Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it."