Leadership across the spectrum

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- "Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved." -- Helen Keller

Leadership is the art and science of motivating Airmen to perform above standards to reach a common goal: Achieving the mission. When entering the military as a company-grade officer, we are always told to find a leadership style and try another style when one does not work effectively.

Does anyone truly know what specific leadership style works for them? How do they learn what leadership style to use? When young officers start out at their first duty assignment, they are placed in a situation where they must trust those around them.

They are told from day one, find a senior NCO and put him or her in your hip pocket. Let him or her mentor you and shape your character to help make you a better leader. Many officers look up to senior NCOs for guidance and support in every position held throughout their career.

As young officers, we typically observe our fellow Airmen while trying to mold our leadership style through trial and error.

There are some leaders who are very direct and do not take into consideration the views of others. This causes them to possibly lose the respect and motivation of their subordinates.

When Airmen do not feel as if their opinions or advice matter, they begin to slowly shut down.

There also are leaders who care about their Airmen to the point that they are afraid to hold them accountable for their actions.

There have been duty sections that fall apart because NCOs are afraid to act when challenged by their peers. As this happens, we start to fail our Airmen through lack of effective leadership.

In most cases, there are leaders who put people first and take the time to get to know every Airman within their span of control.

Leadership is instilled in officers and senior NCOs every day to motivate and encourage those they may lead. A leader is not just an officer or senior NCO, but anyone who is up to the challenge.

Are we holding our enlisted force to a higher standard as they progress in their careers? Are NCOs shaping our junior enlisted personnel the same way we are constantly mentored as officers?

I asked one of my NCOs who has been in the military for 10 years to write an enlisted performance report. The response given was, "Ma'am, I do not know how to write an EPR because they have always been written by my supervisors."

In this particular situation, an NCO failed to properly equip a subordinate for required career progression. According to Air Force Instruction 36-2618, Paragraph 4.1.5, leaders are expected to "epitomize excellence and lead by example through exhibiting professional behavior, military bearing, respect for authority, and the highest standards of dress and appearance."

Effective leadership may take constant introspection and personal adjustment when applying it to different situations. There are some leaders who do not take the time to understand who their personnel are and what each individual has going on in his or her life.

No matter where someone works, there will be difficult personalities and/or tense exchanges if there is a lack of effective communication. The ability to listen and understand is as important as communicating clearly to build and sustain productive relationships. This may be controlled by performance management while conducting on-the-job training within the work environment.

There is a long-term focus toward creating a climate of shared understanding about what is to be achieved. This will help develop leaders to increase the chance the mission will be achieved.

Leaders are constantly put through challenges that tend to change their character and the way they deal with different situations. Having a vision is just not enough. Leaders see things that should be done and things that should be fixed. What makes leaders different is that they act by taking steps to achieve their vision.

In the enlisted force structure, there are three distinct tiers depending on the level of education, training and experience each member possesses. NCOs are charged with mentoring and developing Airmen as they grow while demonstrating the Air Force Core Values.

They must instill professional behaviors in subordinates and correct those who violate standards. In the same manner that officers are mentored by senior NCOs, our junior enlisted members should also be mentored by NCOs.

Today's Airmen become tomorrow's leaders through the art and science of effective leadership.


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