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Selfless Leadership

Graphic for Leadership Commentary Series

Graphic for Leadership Commentary Series

F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. --

When I was asked to write a leadership commentary, instantly, nearly two dozen topics

launched into my head all swimming around with stories and anecdotes of which could have the best

impact, which could truly influence the reader, and which could teach and improve our Airmen.  Things

like: genuine care for people, respect, trust, empathy, participation, teaching, mentoring and growing

others, having vision, developing organizational goals, judgement, personalized leadership,

communication skills, intentional listening, vulnerability, being consistent yet still flexible, knowing your

blind spots and barriers, developing broad perspectives … honestly, the list could go on and on …

Yet, when I ponder leadership, in my humble opinion, the best leaders are those who truly care

for people and are selfless!  Servant leadership is a leader who is selfless in their own career, cares

deeply for those they are charged to lead and selflessly focuses on the mission they must accomplish,

selflessly supports the Air Force and yet is also strong enough to create personal boundaries for balance. 

There are times when the scales lean toward the mission, or the particular Airman, or your family and

friends, or even self-care for time to reflect and regenerate.  Understanding what it really means to be

selfless is easy … we relate the concept in our Air Force culture all the time … we are WINGMEN!  The

very nature of that title compels us to care for one another and be selfless. 

“Service before self” is a core value, not just a buzz phrase or good idea; it guides the character

of how we operate in our Air Force culture.  It is an element which makes us different and better from

every other military force on the planet. It defines us in a way that makes our Air Force the best.  When

we are motivated by our own desires we are not “better together” we are individuals. 

Selflessness is both a character trait and something everyone can work towards.  Personally, for

example, I have chosen to be selfless at times when I’ve been exhausted and want to be done for the

day, but I take the time to invest in the Airmen who wants to talk; or perhaps when I have made the

choice to visit or connect with those deployed or working on holidays.  Or maybe it was selflessness to

share the story of how I made a mistake to teach those behind me to be better and wiser than I was; or

when I might go the extra mile not just to complete the mission or objective but investing the time to

teach and empower others in the process, helping them understand the “why.”  Selflessness can also be

found in the discipline and willingness to do the job nobody wants.  I recall when I was a Captain, flight

commander, in the Military Personnel Flight and my Airmen were being constantly tasked, more than

their fair share, to be observers for urinalysis.  After my requests for proper allocation of the duty fell-on

“deaf ears”, I covered the next day of observation duty.  The message to the unit was clear, they were

valued, their time was valued and their contribution to the mission was valued.  John Wooden said, “Be

more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really

are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”  Does selflessness define your

character?

The heroism of Molly Pitcher during the Revolutionary War is one great example.  Pitcher was

providing water to George Washington’s Minutemen and her husband was manning a cannon.  When

Pitcher’s husband was incapacitated in the fight, Molly Pitcher, without hesitation, replaced her

husband on the canon and fired upon the enemy for the rest of the battle.  Molly Pitcher was selfless

not just in willingness to serve in war, but to pick-up and complete the mission where necessary.  Molly

Pitcher’s bravery and disregard for her own safety is a true form of selflessness.

              You can, and should, invest in developing your character trait of selflessness.  As you choose to

serve selflessly, know that investing time in creating other leaders has the greatest impact, which we

should all strive for!  As we selflessly serve, worried not about our own personal gain or benefit, but

concerned more for our fellow Airmen, the mission, and the great honor to serve and defend our nation

… together we are better and we will ALL rise higher.