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Do you walk the walk, or do you talk the talk?

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Donnie Gallagher
  • 90th Security Forces Group Tactical Response Force operations superintendant
In one of the last commentaries in the Sentinel written by Col. Christopher Coffelt, 90th Missile Wing commander, he asked a question in regards to leadership, "Do you walk the walk, or do you talk the talk?" And, over the past few weeks, I have used that question the stir up several productive conversations with Airmen base wide.

Since that article came out, I have had two distinct opportunities to address two captive audiences; one was Airman Leadership Class 12-C and the other was an invite to speak to the most recent NCO professional development seminar in where I spoke about mentorship and counseling. As I spoke to both groups, we discussed issues and perceived problems ranging from standards enforcement to the Enlisted Evaluation System, and as always these conversations stir up the passion in people and some heated, often entertaining discussions ensue. After almost every conversation, I was able to ask them the question, "do you walk the walk, or do you talk the talk?" That short statement alone was pure gold; it drove at least a good 20 to 30 minutes of solid conversation and some hard hitting critiques of NCOs, senior NCOs and company grade officers. Now, depending who you are and how well you accept criticism will determine how you decipher what our future leaders had to say; It all kind of boiled down to this:

At what point in our careers do we get to stop doing what the Air Force Instructions tell us and disregard what our leadership tells us to do? Loaded question, right? I am always game for a good spirited debate, so I took their bait and got right down to it: "Give me some good examples," I asked. Boy, did they deliver. I heard about everything from not getting mid-term feedbacks to supervisors having double standards to work centers having unprofessional relationship issues. It was embarrassing to hear a lot of what they had to say; it was tough to hear about what my peers and others believe is acceptable. I did take the time to explain and discuss how important it is to enforce the standards, why it's important for all Airmen to enforce the standards and to correct anyone who is disregarding them; I also added that some people may simply not know the standard. I also said they should correct the offender in the most courteous manner possible, especially a superior. I listened to many stories and many examples and I shared stories I had collected over my military career.

At the end of both sessions, we discussed and agreed that most of us had learned many lessons from both good and poorly perceived leaders. However, most of my audience believed they had learned the most from poor leaders. In time these sharp, emerging leaders then deflected and redirected my original question back to me: "Master Sgt. G, you talk the talk, but do you walk the walk?"

I defended my position as best as I could. I admitted what I believed to be my short comings, and I assured them I know I am far from perfect, but I do genuinely believe that myself and most leaders do our best to lead and develop our Airmen on a daily basis. I also assured them that poor leaders are the exception and not the norm. Trust in our leaders and trust in the established procedures, they do actually work in the end.

While speaking during mentorship opportunities, I always bring up the fact that I served as a senior NCO in the Army as both an infantryman and a cavalry scout prior to "crossing into the blue," and that I try desperately to blend the best of my leadership training from both branches into the leadership style that I use today. Basically, I call this approach "common sense." I know it's not ground breaking and it's far from exciting, but it's what I try to do and as some of you know it doesn't always work.

I have often been asked my opinion on what are the most important attributes of leadership. This is a tricky question because there is so much to know about leadership and so many different schools of thought on it. The best way for me to explain my opinion is to tell a story.

In the lessons of leadership I have received, no matter what branch, they all intermingle, they all work, and they all cover things we must know to be effective leaders. Of all the lessons one stands out the most. I was taught this lesson by a crusty old Army staff sergeant, which is equal to our technical sergeant rank, while I was a student at the 10th Mountain Division Primary Leadership Development Course at Fort Drum, N.Y.; this course is the equivalent to our Army Leadership School. The lesson was simple, and it applies today as it did back when I was a young Army specialist. It is simply called the "four 'C's of leadership." If you apply them properly in the correct amounts, I promise you will be well on your way to talking the talk and walking the walk when it comes to leadership.

The four "C"s are simply this; courage, candor, competence and commitment. I will discuss them briefly and only you know how much of each you need.

Courage: This goes well beyond the battlefield definition of facing danger with valor. It means having the courage to do and say the right things when it really matters; correcting a peer, or reaching out to help others or making an unpopular decision when it has to be made; standing up as a wingman when others are about to make poor decisions, these all take courage.

Candor: Candor, when broken down into layman's terms, is simply telling it like it is. Don't sugar-coat bad news. Don't do it for your squadron commander, your supervisor or anyone. Have and act with integrity, and tactfully tell it how it is. Remember, bad news doesn't get any better with time. Sometimes, it's hard to have candor, but it really helps your credibility. Just remember your delivery is extremely important.

Competence: Simply put, know your job, know your peers and subordinates jobs, and do your best to know your supervisors job. Do everything you can to know the ins and outs of everything your work center does and is responsible for. Improve yourself constantly, the more you know the more valuable of a team member you are. Know how you contribute to the mission of the wing. It takes all of us to get it this mission done; we are all important. Find out what "ops, cops and maintenance" means; if you work in a support function explain to your subordinates why their mission and contribution is important.

Commitment: If you aren't committed to our nation, our Air Force, and our mission, you may need to do a self-evaluation and see if you still need to be doing this job. Be committed to setting the example whether you are an Airman, NCO, senior NCO or CGO. You should be striving to set the example in everything you do. Be committed to setting standards, enforcing standards and developing the force. If you are an Airman reading this, you may be an informal leader and you know you influence others. Take time to help your peers. Be committed. You don't need NCO stripes on your sleeves, or shiny insignia on your collar to be a leader; take charge when in charge and always develop your peers and subordinates alike. As senior NCOs, we should be seeking out those young CGOs and helping them to develop and leading them down the right path. Company grade officers, seek out that seasoned senior NCO and listen to their advice; they just might know a few things. Most importantly, accomplish the mission and embrace the awesome responsibility we all have.

If some of that sounded preachy -- it may have been -- I apologize; however, I know that if you apply those four simple "C"s you will be well on your way to becoming an even better leader than you already are. Apply the four "C"s in what you can, as they can help you be a better a wingman to your peers and Airmen alike. Noncommissioned officers and senior NCOs, I challenge you to take someone under your wing, mentor them, lead them or just be a good wingman to them. Take an extraordinary interest in their likes or dislikes; let them know you care. Noncommissioned officers, grab your peers and subordinates and attend a Rising 6 meeting. Senior NCOs, grab a peer and attend the next "Top 3" meeting. Take a chance and network with others outside your group. Take the chance to let tomorrow's leaders know that today's leaders care.

Ask yourself, "Are you talking the talk, or walking the walk?"