Leadership Lessons: The definition

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- Leadership. There appears to be no shortage of definitions. A Google search of "leadership definitions" yields roughly 127,000 results in .39 seconds; add the word "quotes" to the search and results jump to 791,000.  It seems that every notable person across every professional field has his or her own definition. With so many concepts of leadership, I thought it important to take a moment to consider the Air Force's definition as published in the most current Professional Development Guide: "Leadership is the art and science of motivating, influencing, and directing Airmen to accomplish the Air Force mission in joint warfare."

It further states that, "accomplishing the mission is the primary task of every military organization; everything else must be subordinate. However, a successful leader recognizes that people perform the mission and without their support, the unit will fail." What makes a leader effective according to the Air Force? Leaders "make fair and firm decisions that are in the best interest of good order, discipline, and successful accomplishment of the mission."

General Louis L. Wilson, Jr., while Commander in Chief, Pacific Air Forces, in 1976 wrote the advice below (note: explanations are summarized) on how to be a good leader. It is as relevant today as it was nearly 40 years ago.

Be tough. Set high standards - and insist your troops meet them. Correct those who do not live up to them.

Get out from behind your desk. Talk to your troops! Take a sincere interest in their work and well-being.

Search out the problems. Be open and create an atmosphere that will allow your troops to share them with you. Do not kid yourself; every unit has problems.

Find the critical path to success. Prioritize; do not get bogged down in the minutiae. Use your weight on key issues.

Be sensitive. Listen to your troops. Show empathy. Talk to them. Learn to recognize problems. Seek input and solutions.

Do not take things for granted. Follow up on issues yourself.  Often issues that appear resolved are not or do not remain that way. Monitor your progress.

Do not alibi. Be accountable, not defensive, when something goes wrong. No one is perfect.

Do not procrastinate. Be thoughtful in your decisions but once you reach them, act on them. 

Do not tolerate incompetence. Be courageous, when an Airman's attitude or work does not meet Air Force standards, confront them and take the actions necessary to correct the issue.  Just as important, provide positive reinforcement and recognize those Airmen who are performing well.  

Be honest. Hold yourself and your fellow Airmen to this standard. Create an open atmosphere that cultivates trust and confidence.

Leadership is something some are born with, and some have to develop, but it is a skill that we all must cultivate. Wilson's philosophy on leadership is one that we can all borrow from to develop our own leadership styles.