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There is more than one way to be an effective Leader

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --

In the last edition of the Southern Flyer I spoke about the leadership perspectives from Gen. Brown, Chief of Staff of the Air Force and Chief Master Sgt. Bass, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force. In this edition I would like to give you one of my perspectives on leadership. Always remember that the definition of leadership will vary depending on each individual’s experience and background.

Leadership is one of those topics that can generate great conversation and lead to some pretty spirited debates from time to time. We’ve all been in one of those conversations where someone takes a soundbite or quote from their favorite leader and then integrates it into their leadership style. There are about six common leadership styles, and many others that are customized by the leader utilizing them. Every style, common or not, has advantages and disadvantages, depending on the situation and the end result that is trying to be obtained. Some leadership styles are completely autocratic and some are totally all inclusive to allow everyone to have a say in decisions being made.  

Whatever leadership style you decide to use in your daily leadership roles, I think it’s important to have two criteria at the top of the list, trust and credibility. I firmly believe that each person in the relationship has to possess these two criteria before real leadership and followership can happen.  

Speaking of followership, we all have seen and heard more advertisements about how to become more effective and better leaders by attending this or that class or seminar. There are no shortages of those opportunities. How many classes or training opportunities have you seen that tell you how to become a more effective or better follower? I would be willing to bet that you probably haven’t seen any. I believe one part of being an effective leader is also being a better follower. Please let me explain. The Air Force has prioritized the importance of diversity and inclusion. I think one of the most overlooked parts of this priority by many members is the ability to include diversity of thought. Diversity of thought requires us, even leaders, to give the opportunity to others to express their thoughts and opinions when seeking a goal or resolution. With that in mind, it means those of us in the senior ranks may have to lay our rank to the side and give younger Airmen the opportunity to lead in certain situations. More importantly, it requires us to stop and listen!  During my 22 years in the Air Force I have reflected back and seen where I and many leaders that I have served with have probably not met that standard, which resulted in stifling a process or limiting the options of how to best resolve a situation.  

As a previous first sergeant and now your command chief, it is assumed that I have all the right answers for many different situations. The reality of that is, I do not have all the answers. Realizing that, I have had some great opportunities to step back during my career and pass the leadership role to younger ranking Airmen that had more information and experience to share, which resulted in me being the follower and a better resolution to the situation at hand. The three most important benefits of me following during those times resulted in me learning something new, the younger Airman being empowered in their abilities to lead others, and the mission continuing without undue delay. I consider this a win-win for all involved.

In closing, being a “leader” doesn’t always require the most senior ranking individual to be the one who supplies all the information or make the decision. Sometimes it requires the “leader” to step back and follow those who have more knowledge of the situation. If leaders will look for opportunities to follow, they will instill confidence in those who are leading, the team will become stronger, and the formal leaders will become more effective in their roles. My challenge to you is to look for opportunities to follow in order to become a more effective leader.