Leadership … Are You Ready?

  • Published
  • By Maj. Clarence Anderson III
  • 49th Materiel Maintenance Support Squadron
To most, only 12 years and 10 months of total active-duty service in the Air Force is not a long time, and you certainly aren't retirement eligible yet. However, I have encountered many different situations both personally and professionally that have molded me into a leader. I have experienced fatherhood, divorce, numerous deployments and even death, all of which consciously or unconsciously postured me into leadership. I have also had the privilege of not having the stick because followership is just as important as leadership, as it teaches patience and humility, two direly needed characteristics to have as a leader.

Followership provides an opportunity to sit in the back seat and observe your boss while he or she is tested and challenged to bear witness how they deal with success, and in most cases, adversity. My experiences have taught me three simple things about leadership I am willing to share.

My first is that there are no "born leaders." Leadership is a learned behavior. I know this is contradictory to most OPR or EPR bullets, but none of us were born knowing exactly what to do at the exact time without pulling from some past experience. It may be true that some of us respond better than others when placed in the same or similar environments, but primarily due to our past experiences and our respective environments.

Sometimes we learn from the school of hard knocks, and sometimes we are fortunate to learn from friends and mentors. It is my observation that the best leaders and mentors I have had were also the best teachers. Less effective leaders were unable or unwilling to invest in those growing up behind them. It is imperative that you teach and challenge your subordinates if they are to be effective leaders for today's Air Force.

The second simple thing I learned on leadership is good leaders are comfortable when uncomfortable. They have realized as long as they stay within their comfort zones they will never grow and affect those around them. Were they intimidated about the challenges awaiting them? Maybe? Were they ever uncertain they were the right person for the job? Probably? But they looked at the obstacles before them and they, as so many before them overcame their minor insecurities and asked, "If not me, then who? If not now, then when?"

And last but certainly not least, the most valuable lesson I learned on leadership is the most effective leaders have some external source of FAITH. I will never tell anyone what to believe in or how to believe in it, but you need to believe in something to get you past your situation. You can research and find countless examples both in the military and civilian realms where those leaders had an "outside" presence leading and protecting them. Some unexplained force that helped guide along the way.

From Capt. Richard Phillips's rescue of Somali pirates to US Airways pilot Chesley Sullenberger's 'miracle landing' on the Hudson, one can't help but wonder if there is some unexplained force calming these leaders during their most uncomfortable moments. But what do I know? I'm nowhere close to retirement with only 12 years and 10 months of total active-duty service.