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December 8th, 2017





           
 
            
 
 
  
 

Leadership is action, not position

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- As one of the newest squadron commanders at Ellsworth, one of my first priorities was to educate the members of my squadron on my leadership philosophy. The purpose of this article is to share this philosophy with you. The tenets are basic but sometimes assumed or taken for granted. At the end of the day, they are simply the vector for a humble veteran with 19 years of service, entering command for the first time.

I have a framed photo in my office of a bald eagle in flight, wings spread wide, his talons holding a fish he captured from the surface of the ocean. Under the photo is the caption, "Leadership is Action, Not Position." This phrase epitomizes my leadership philosophy; specifically, I am a leader by virtue of what I do, not the authority I am given or the duty title I hold.

As such, I have three fundamental principles by which I work. First, the mission is number one, but people come first. Second, standards are the same for all, but discipline is different for everyone. Third, balance is nearly impossible to achieve, but striving for it is required. If these principles leave you scratching your head, let me explain.

What I mean by "mission is number one, but people come first" is quite simple. Although the mission is the highest priority, people make it happen. Therefore, it is my responsibility to put my people first, to serve them, not the other way around. I am not suggesting that I will not have to ask people to make personal sacrifices to accomplish the mission. On the contrary, I expect high work ethics, significant accomplishments and, at times, sacrifices. That said, my mission in life, as a commander and a leader, is to do absolutely everything possible within my power to make the quality of life of my personnel as comfortable as I can.

For instance, it is my responsibility to make sure my personnel have the training, equipment and work environment to enable them to do well and have pride in their profession. Also, I commit to "fall on my sword" when necessary to protect my personnel when warranted and to keep their best interests at heart. Finally, but not all inclusively, I endeavor to know each of my squadron members on a personal level, because it is important to know people not only as Airmen, but for the people they are and the things and people that affect their lives.

Moving on, I am big on standards. I am prior-enlisted so I "know both sides of the tracks", as they say. Regardless of what side of the tracks people are on, however, standards are standards; they are not difficult to maintain, and either they are met or they are not. When standards are not met, it is my duty as an officer, leader and commander to enforce standards.

Although standards are the same for everyone, discipline is not. There are always variables at play such as "is there a track record?"; "how has the member's duty performance been?"; "what are the options and how will they impact the member's career?" and "what is the lowest level of discipline that will correct the behavior?". My squadron personnel do not always know the circumstances and variables at play, but I have committed to them that discipline, although applied on a sliding scale, will be fair and consistent.

Third, although balance is nearly impossible to achieve, striving for it is required. I think we all work better if we have balance in our personal and professional lives, if we have spiritual, physical and emotional balance, feel good about the work we do every day, are recognized and feel like we are making a difference in the big scheme of things. Although we know these things and often try to reach balance with the important aspects of our lives, it is often difficult to achieve that balance.

I can say at this moment I will want to have squadron social functions more often than I will be able to, I will want to get out to see my personnel more often than I will be able to, and there will be days, weeks and months my personnel and I will work much longer hours than we want to. Although we will not be able to strike balance in all things, we must always try. It is good for us, our families and our productivity.

It all boils down to this: if, after my time as a commander here is through and the people in my squadron, not to mention others within the wing, think of me as a leader and not just a commander, and I have made lives better by being here, then I will have done well. I will have flown focused, strong and successful.