Are we all leaders?

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt Dan Merkh
  • 319th Security Forces Squadron
"I am an American Airman. Wingman, Leader, Warrior."

So opens the last verse of the Airman's Creed. Whether Airmen come through Basic Military Training or a commissioning source, they are ingrained with these ideals. All are Airmen, members of an elite military and working toward a common goal.

All are wingmen, brothers and sisters united in purpose. All are warriors united by a mission, whether fighting on the frontlines or providing the vital, direct support necessary to make the mission a success.

But are we all leaders?

Through the ages, the concept of leadership has been deliberated, debated, dissected and most importantly, demonstrated.

Young lieutenants, through various courses, are taught the importance of leadership, the ins and outs of how to be a good leader and how to care for their Airmen. While courses and lectures may be helpful, the greatest teacher is personal observation both of great leaders and of not-so-stellar leaders.

Through experience and observation Airmen of all ranks can learn the pitfalls to avoid such as disregard, manipulation or the killer: false sincerity.

From great leaders, exemplary practices are learned. These demonstrate value to followers by commending the accomplishments of Airmen or remembering seemingly minor details about them.

From these and other observations, here is the conclusion of a young lieutenant: the quality of leadership is not a checklist of "do's and don'ts" but a way of life - a lifestyle with a resume. The Golden Rule, as taught by Jesus Christ, lies at the heart of genuine leadership. "Love your neighbor as yourself." (Mark 12:31) Nothing demonstrates true leadership more than genuinely caring for your people and having the credibility to back it up.

The apex of this leadership style can be illustrated by Colonel Ira "Teen" Palm, whose raid on Hitler's Munich residence in April 1945 is recounted in "Hitler in the Crosshairs." Author Maurice Possley writes this of then 1st Lt. Palm's men at the pivotal moment in the raid:

"His men waited for Palm to give them a signal. They trusted him with their lives; he had proved his mettle time and again in battle. They had seen how he cared about his soldiers - not only physically but spiritually. And they all believed that not only would he protect them as best he could, but that Teen Palm was ready to die for them."

These men trusted their leader because they knew he cared about them. Leaders must stay in tune with the needs of those they lead, whether physical, emotional or spiritual and address them appropriately.

However, caring is not enough. The leader must have a history of proven competence. Thus, a caring leader with a resume is the most powerful weapon in the Air Force's arsenal. This individual has proven him or herself, cares for their subordinates and motivates their Airmen to get the mission done.

Every Airman is building his or her leadership resume. Whether a wing commander, A1C or somewhere in the middle, every Airman has the opportunity and responsibility to lead others.
Every Airman can be a great leader, but it is up to each Airman to learn from their observations of other leaders, to actively seek the wellbeing of those around them and to incorporate the lifestyle of the great leaders around them.

The true height of leadership is not marked by the rank worn on a sleeve or collar but by the willingness of others to fight and possibly die following their leader because they know their leader is fighting and willing to die for them.

"I am an American Airman.
Wingman, Leader, Warrior.
I will never leave an Airman behind,
I will never falter,
And I will not fail."