I know who, what, when and where … but why?

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. (AFNS) -- Leading by example can be a heavy burden, but it is the burden we choose to carry when we don the uniform each day. As leaders, we should focus on showing others "how" to be an American Airman who embodies the core values. We should also explain "why" it matters to serve with the utmost integrity because the "who, what, when and where" will then fall into place.

For example, when I was in ammo, I trained Airmen on upgrade tasks. If I incorrectly showed them how, they would obviously err in their role. However, if I failed to explain why it was important to follow technical orders, for example, the temptation may too great to cut corners in the future. It may also deprive them of pride in mission accomplishment. My negative leader influence could then be contagious and spread to other areas of their job and life.

When you show someone how to perform and explain why it is important, you get to the heart of the matter. Airmen not only need more head knowledge; they need more heart knowledge. Airmen want to perform well and work on high-performing teams. We owe them the tools to become outstanding individuals who accomplish incredible things as a team. Show them the importance of wanting to always do things the right way rather than simply doing things the right way when someone is looking.

Think about the kitchen fight scene in “The Break Up.” Jennifer Aniston browbeats Vince Vaughn into helping wash the dishes, but she doesn't like that he is simply giving a hand. No, she states, "I want you to want to do the dishes," which is something he cannot fathom. Many Airmen share these exact sentiments. Maybe you have felt the same way at some point in your career.

Our challenge is to get our Airmen to want to do the right thing. If we are going to exhort them, we must first model exemplary behavior. This calls for inner reflection; a sober assessment of ourselves is invaluable. Take a deep look in the proverbial mirror and allow your inner light to provide a visible path for others to follow. Ethical leadership is contagious and it starts with you.


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