F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. --
When I was asked to write a leadership commentary, nearly two dozen topics instantly launched into my head, swimming around with stories and anecdotes of which could have the best impact, which could truly influence the reader and others which could teach and improve our Airmen. Things like: genuine care for people, respect, trust, empathy, participation, teaching, mentoring & growing others, having vision, developing organizational goals, judgement, personalized leadership, communication skills, intentional listening, vulnerability, being consistent and yet still flexible, knowing your blind spots & barriers, developing broad perspectives … honestly, the list could go on and on.
Yet, when I ponder leadership, the best leaders, in my humble opinion, are those who truly care for people and are selfless! Servant leadership means a leader who is selfless in their own career, cares deeply for those they are charged to lead, selflessly focuses on the mission they must accomplish, selflessly supports the Air Force and yet who is also strong enough to create personal boundaries for balance. There are times when the scales lean towards the mission, or the particular Airman, or your family & friends, or even self-care of 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 toward. For example, I personally have chosen to be selfless at times when I was exhausted and wanted to be done for the day, but you take the time to invest in the Airman 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 replaced her husband on the cannon without hesitation 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 another true form of selflessness.
You can, and should, invest in a 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.