Leadership philosophy

  • Published
  • By Col. James Thompson
  • 49th Wing, vice commander
Webster's dictionary defines leadership as, "a position as a leader of a group, organization, etc.; the time when a person holds the position of leader, or the power or ability to lead other people." Do you have the power or ability to lead other people? Yup, you bet! Those of us in the U.S. military, or who support the U.S. military are looked upon as leaders in society with some of the most trust and confidence of any profession. Particularly, as we draw down the size of our Air Force, we owe it to the taxpayers and the 325,000 (ok, soon to be 310,000) personnel in the U.S. Air Force to hone our leadership skills, as we will have to become more efficient to achieve excellence in all we do.

The main course for this menu is self-improvement and building yourself up for a successful life. Perhaps you will lead a family, a military unit or possibly a group of civilian employees at a non-military organization. Regardless, the impetus that drove you to serve in the military as an officer or enlisted member, civilian, contractor, or spouse will continue to develop inside you and manifest itself in some yet unforeseen way down the road. So, take a little bit from each experience you gain along the way, and think about the definition of your personal leadership philosophy.

Think of the good leaders you know and write down a few words that best summarize why you identify them as good leaders. Then list the bad leaders you know, and in a different column write down why you consider them bad leaders. Brig. Gen. Robin Olds (thank you for mustache March), in The Challenge of Leadership, a speech given at the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970, suggests a leader must have, "enthusiasm, initiative, judgment, integrity, a sense of justice, knowledge, loyalty, tact [and] unselfishness. Some think that to be a good leader you have to be popular. This is so fallacious that it is absolutely unbelievable." Odds are that for most leaders you can find a little of both the good and the bad factors, but have you ever taken the time to write them down?

After a few years of experience and observation, you should have experienced different types of leaders, so try to summarize the good things you've noticed into your own philosophy. It is most definitely not the time to start figuring out what kind of leader you want to be when you first sit down in the chair. Your personal leadership philosophy should be simple and something you can
explain in five minutes or less. Keep in mind that you may have to repeat it very often to those working with and for you! And if you write it down, it will assist you in the decisions you make.

Here's a personal example:

For me to be the absolutely best leader possible, I will See, Be, and Do.

- I will See: I will set the vision for my squadron, group, wing and family. I will change the vision as necessary, but my job is to provide the long-term vision and anticipate where we need to be one month from now, one year from now and beyond. I will put this in clear terms so all can understand.

- I will Be: I will set the example as best as I can. I will personally strive to achieve greatness in the physical, economic, spiritual and military leadership role so all my subordinates can have an example to follow. I may not be the top performer in all categories, but I will continually try to improve.

- I will Do: I will not let us waste time on trivial things. I will always look to make great gains in a short time and for the long term. I will attempt to achieve at least one big thing each week. I will accept taking the 80 percent plan and executing it violently vice debating to get the 100 percent solution and accomplishing nothing. Time is precious, so let's go!
Feel free to use as much or as little of this example as you would like, but take time to reflect on the leadership you observe and experience, both the good and the bad. Make your leadership happen on purpose, not by accident. In 2005, Gen. Welsh, [then Maj. Gen. Welsh] charged attendees at the KEYSTONE Leadership summit, "If you're going to lead warriors, you have to understand that leadership is a gift. It's given by those who follow. You have to be worthy of it. Are you? I ask myself that question every single day." Now, it is time to get out and make your leadership happen!