It Starts with Leadership

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Clifton Cole
  • 28th Bomb Wing command chief
A definition of leadership is "the art of influencing and directing people to accomplish the mission." Some people ask, "Where have the good leaders gone?"

We read books about leaders and leadership; many take on the leadership style of others before them. Does leadership start while we are young, or do we have to wait until we are grown to be called leaders? Some leaders attribute their leadership abilities to their home life and the discipline instilled in them. Others might not have grown up in the same structured lifestyle, but they still turned out to be great leaders. I'm not trying to start a debate, but I am sure many of you will say the leadership you had growing up made you what you are today.

Growing up as a young man I knew who was in charge--it was my parents, or some other relative. I looked for guidance and leadership from them. They didn't fail to provide all the necessities I needed to make it in life. They were the early leaders in my life and I took directions of leadership from them.
Like many of you, the adults in my life provided necessary leadership and helped to charter my future. Many of you heard this statement from your parents: "Be a leader, not a follower." Although we were also taught followership, many of us listened to our parents' words; we wanted to be leaders, not followers.

Our lessons in leadership continued as we entered the school system; teachers provided educational opportunities, and many took the time to teach us to be leaders in society. When we think back to the teachers who have touched our lives, it is easy to see that many of them led by example. Our leadership lessons continued when we joined the military. They were taught to us in basic training and the military schools we attended. I don't know about you, but I was told, along with looking to supply journeymen, the military was also looking for leaders.

There are so many opportunities for us to lead in the military. We are surrounded by leaders who work within and outside our workplace. They include Military Training Instructors, Professional Military Education Instructors, Base Career Advisors, and each one of them contributed to the development of our leaders.

A good example of leading outside the workplace is when you are a Wingman. Everyone looks to you to provide the necessary leadership. As a Wingman, you must step up to your leadership roles because if you don't, bad things can happen.

Throughout my career, I do not recall my instructors or supervisors asking the question, "Who wants to be a leader?" This is because, as military members, we're already expected to be leaders. From the young Noncommissioned Officer leading a flight of basic trainees, to the Airmen involved in the squadron sponsorship program, the experienced NCOs supply the training our young Airmen step forward and provide the required leadership.

The military, unlike many organizations, doesn't depend solely on those in the workplace to train us, but it also invests in formal professional military education throughout our career.

Our enlisted Airmen's first professional military experience is the Airman Leadership School. As a Senior Airman, they are capable of supervising others and have a greater impact. ALS passes on leadership tools for Senior Airman to put in their toolbox in order for them to become effective leaders.
This leadership lesson doesn't stop in ALS; as Airmen get promoted, they will move on to the Noncommissioned Officers Academy, Senior Noncommissioned Officers Academy and the Chief Leadership Course.

Let's not worry about where all the good leaders have gone because there are many here at Ellsworth. It is up to each of us to invest in and continue to train our future leaders.

In the words of retired General Colin Powell, "The day Soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership."

This principle applies to today's Airmen, as well. We can argue that "it starts with leadership," but we must also look at all of our teachings and what we do on a daily basis and say, "Leadership never ends."