Train for leadership – observe, read, practice

  • Published
  • By Col. Sushil Ramrakha
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Vice Commander
Leadership is not like riding a bike - it takes time, constant effort and experience to lead a team, no matter how large or small. Have you ever taken a break from running or working out due to an injury, vacation or just couldn't find the time to make it to the gym? I can't speak for you, but personally I know I can't give my best performance until I knock the rust off.

Unfortunately, neither the nation nor our Air Force has the time or the patience to wait for our Airmen to knock the rust off when the opportunity to lead presents itself. I would suggest that leadership is a full contact sport, and you can't just sit on the sidelines and hope you're ready when the time comes. So how do you train for leadership?

First, observe - whether you work in back shops, an office environment or the flight line, you have a fantastic leadership laboratory to see how your leaders handle different situations on a daily basis. Investigate how supervisors, first sergeants and commanders interact with each other and the rest of the unit. Examine which person leads in what circumstances and see who follows. Thoroughly analyze how a particular issue is resolved. Whether successful or not, file the situation and solution away as a starting point for when you encounter a similar setting in the future whether you are in the role of supervisor, first shirt, or commander.

Secondly, read - contrary to popular belief, reading leadership books is not a waste of time. Reading allows you to get inside the minds of our best leaders and understand their thought processes and perspectives as they lead their forces through difficult times. How did George Washington deal with wintering his Army at Valley Forge, his period's version of sequestration? His experience just might give you a different perspective of what we're going through today. With so many leadership books on the market, it may seem overwhelming to choose the right one. I would highly recommend the Chief of Staff Reading List as an excellent source. You might also learn a little about our Air Force heritage.

Lastly, practice - you can watch and read about Tiger Woods' golf swing all day, but until you take a club out and spend time practicing, it really won't do you any good (even then you might never be as good as him). Like muscle memory, you must hone your leadership skills by spending time actually leading. Always seek opportunities to lead whether it's your next unit get together, a position on the Airmen Committed to Excellence council, Warrior 5-6, Top-3, Company Grade Officer Council, or something a bit more challenging like the Wing's Air Force Ball.

Someone once said, "Success is where preparation and opportunity meet." Use today to prepare for leadership opportunities in the future. Observe, read and practice so you won't be rusty. Remember, as far as leadership skills go, you really will lose it if you don't use it.