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Just one Airman's perspective on leadership at all levels

  • Published
  • By Maj. Chad Ellsworth
  • 90th Logistics Readiness Squadron commander
John Quincy Adams once said, "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader."

From my perspective, being a leader - and the term leadership itself - is a mixture of life experiences and a deliberate learning process that continuously evolves. Those experiences and tools you learn ultimately define the leader you are or will become. Have you developed your own leadership philosophy? If not, why? Knowing what guides and drives you as a leader is a critical step in developing your leadership foundation.

Though there are many leadership principles we learn and build upon throughout our professional lives. I have four principles that continue to guide me and have become core to who I am as a leader and my leadership philosophy. I call them the "4BEs." The 4BE leadership principles are: be passionate, be effective, be disciplined and be balanced.

Let's take a closer look.

Be Passionate:

A passionate leader must be available and approachable, create a synergistic work environment, and create believers. If you want to inspire the Airmen you lead, you must be passionate about what you do and who you lead, and not about the position you hold. Passionate leaders understand the importance of being available and approachable.

Passionate leaders are available to those they lead by listening and understanding to their needs, both professionally and personally. John Maxwell once said, "Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them."

A passionate leader must create a synergistic work environment. Passionate leaders create energy by knowing their trade and having a desire to learn from and work with colleagues, regardless of rank. This creates an environment people want to work in and develops a cohesive team atmosphere.

Finally, a passionate leader creates believers out of those they lead. Leaders must create a belief in their Airmen that they have the capacity to do great things. Instill a belief in Airmen that they have the most important job in their section, flight, squadron, wing and the Air Force! If you as the leader don't believe it, then neither will the Airmen you lead.

Be Effective:

Vince Lombardi said it best when he said, "The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual." The Merriam-Webster dictionary further defines being effective as: producing a decided, decisive or desired outcome. From my perspective, being an effective leader is communicating a desired outcome or direction clearly and then stepping back out of the way; allow the talents of those you lead to get the job done with their creative solutions.

In addition, an effective leader will encourage speculation, challenge potential solutions and know when to ask the "what if" questions. Effective leaders think through the second and third order effects of every decision they make. Anyone can make a snap decision, but an effective leader knows that every decision they make has multiple impacts on their organization and the people they lead, either positive or negative.

Last but not least, an effective leader understands success is a team effort and learns to say "We" instead of "I." Unless the team falls short of success, then "I" take full responsibility of falling short. You see, effective leaders won't point their finger at their teams when things go wrong, they take responsibility for their team's mistake, but give their team the credit for every success.

Be Disciplined

As an Airman in the United States Air Force, being disciplined is rooted in our core values of integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do. Our standards of conduct define how Airmen should interact on and off duty. A leader must not only know, understand and speak to the profession of arms, they must also be the example through their daily actions.

In addition, a leader must seek continual process improvements in the areas of their responsibility. Furthermore, leaders hold themselves and those who work for them accountable for violations of Air Force Instructions and standards of conduct.

Be Balanced:

I heard a senior leader once say, "We come into this world head first and go out feet first; in between, it is all a matter of balance." Finding and maintaining a balance of work and personal life tends to be a struggle for people associated with the military.

Every Airman has taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution of United States of America. With this oath comes much sacrifice, and it is not about the individual, but something larger. As leaders, we must always learn to strike a balance between the oath we have taken and our family, spiritual and emotional well-being. If you do not take care of yourself in these aspects, your commitment and ability to perform as a leader diminishes. You must have the ability to reserve your energy to provide time to your family, hobbies or whatever your passion may be outside of your professional life.

So there you have it, the 4BEs leadership principles. Building a solid leadership foundation through continuous learning is critical to your development as a leader. Just remember, don't forget to pass on the knowledge and tools you will gain throughout your leadership expedition to those who may one day fill your leadership role. I'd like to wrap up this article with a leadership quote from one extraordinary leader in our nation's history, Eleanor Roosevelt. "You gain strength, experience and confidence by every experience where you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you cannot do."