Airmen mirror their leaders

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Natalie Ord
  • 319th Communications Squadron
Airmen often ask me, "what's the most important aspect of leadership?" Each time I'm reminded of a story by Mark Gibson, a former gymnastics coach who worked with many elite athletes and a wonderful story he told about a 15-year-old girl whose work ethic and attitude brought out the best in everyone.

Cindy wasn't a great gymnast, but when she was in the gym everyone complained less, worked harder and not surprisingly, achieved more. Cindy was such a powerful motivator because she was blind. When it was her turn to do the vault, her mom would run alongside her telling her how close she was to the vault. When her mom yelled "Vault", Cindy would reach out and jump, trusting her mother and herself.

Her coach called her the most important member of the team -- not because of her athletic ability -- but because of her heart and because she demonstrated a standard of fortitude and courage that inspired others to get more out of themselves. Everyone who watched her strive to be the best she could be realized how much more they could be.

This is leadership - leadership by example - and we see this sort of leadership not only in sports, but in communities and our organizations. Often the most important members of the team are not the smartest, most skilled or most powerful. Their power is in their attitude and their ability to energize and encourage others with their optimism, enthusiasm and determination. Likewise, Airmen who know how to get the best out of themselves get the best out of others.

For our Airmen, the Air Force provides a multitude of opportunities that helps them improve their abilities and professional development by obtaining higher education as part of their continuing professional growth through professional military education courses, upgrade training and Air Force sponsored degrees. Along with education and training, Airmen are encouraged by their leaders and supervisors to stay actively engaged in every stage of their careers and to never leave personal and professional development to chance.

Development is a conscious choice; and like Cindy, our attitudes and character can be a central motivating factor not only in our ability to grow as individuals, but also in how to become resourceful leaders when facing difficult personal or organizational challenges. Clearly, budget cuts, frequent deployments and low manning all serve to make our task that much more difficult.

There is little room for error in the performance of our mission, and the need to depend heavily on each other has become more critical than ever before. Our commitment to the team is essential and begins with a strong commitment to excellence in who we are as Airmen.

Every so often, I will hear an abdication of these responsibilities from NCOs and senior NCOs who complain about everything from PT standards to attending farewell luncheons or recognition ceremonies. As Airmen, we have a mission and heritage we have accepted and we must do everything we can to accomplish it successfully even when the workload seems insurmountable. We must be honest with our Airmen. Acknowledge the negative, emphasize the positive and never let Airmen feel sorry for themselves.

Gen. Roger A. Brady, former United States Air Forces in Europe commander once said, "Our attitude and reaction to difficult times may be the most important element in our ability to deal with the challenges we face. If leaders are down and Airmen sense it, their worst fears will be confirmed. If we are up in spite of the challenges, they will remain confident in the future."

When we sell ourselves short in our own development or upholding standards, we can also undermine our Airmen's ability to become their best. Like Cindy, we need to maintain a standard of character that encourages others to be committed to personal and organizational excellence while remaining resolute in achieving the mission despite the difficulties and challenges.

Our Airmen need to hear and see this level of commitment demonstrated by all levels of leadership. Leaders set the tone for excellence in their organizations and more often than not, Airmen will mirror their examples. The image we project in standards is instrumental to effective operations. We all have an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others and how we lead and prepare our Airmen will be clearly set by our example.