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Leadership is Action

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- Far too often today I hear young Airmen, both officer and enlisted, say, "I am not a leader. I'm an operator, a technician, a follower or a subordinate; but not a leader."

For some reason, they believe just because they are new to the service and may not hold a fancy title they are not allowed to lead.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Leadership has nothing to do with position, rank, title or age. Leadership is, quite simply, all about action. It's about the example Airmen set, the standards they hold and the passion they have for excellence. In fact, it is their demonstrated leadership which merits increased rank or duty position. Leadership comes first- not the other way around.

Far too often I believe Airmen confuse leadership with responsibility. Just because people have more responsibility, this does not automatically make them great leaders. They may be competent, efficient and talented, but leadership is about integrity. It's about doing the right thing even when no one is looking. It's about knowing accountability starts with them. It's about stepping up to a challenge and rising to the occasion. Leadership can be evidenced at any rank at any time, but in the end, it all starts with action.

Airmen cannot simply sit around, take notes and hope someday they will be great leaders. After all, I don't know about anyone else, but I've looked for this famous "someday" on a calendar and have yet to find it. Leadership starts with action, today! It starts with recognizing everyone has the opportunity to lead from day one and demonstrating it through actions. It can be as simple as picking up trash, shining shoes or rendering a salute. All of these tasks demonstrate leadership and the best part is these simple tasks build momentum.

As Airmen continue to demonstrate their leadership ability, they earn recognition from both supervisors and peers. This recognition brings with it increased challenges or more appropriately, increased opportunities to excel. As Airmen progress, they will find their confidence grows and their leadership talents take on greater clarity and power. Soon these talents may get them recognized as "great leaders." When that occurs, they will notice increased rank, position and responsibility have been laid to waste in their path. It is their leadership which will be remembered and it all started on day one when they took action.

I'll leave it to theorists and philosophers to debate origins of a person's leadership ability- whether it is an innate natural ability or a learned response- but ultimately all great leaders arise from the noise as the person willing to stand up and take charge. People willing to take on a challenge, address a problem, ask a tough question or even face down the enemy are leaders. They do not know if they will succeed or fail when the situation presents itself, but they realize that someone has to answer the call. They have the moral fortitude, irrespective of their rank or position, to take action. This is what ultimately makes them great.

Next time Airmen are asked if they are leaders, what will they say? Will they shy away from the responsibility or take action and respond with confidence: "Yes I am!"