What makes a good leader?

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Kimberly Perry
  • 319th Contracting Squadron
What makes a good leader? You can ask that question to 20 different people and get 20 different answers. Who's right? I'd say probably all 20 of them. Our professional military education provides us the tools to be good leaders and a long list of traits and expectations that we are to adhere to and uphold. Our personal experiences, good or bad, mold us from there. It wasn't until I was assigned to a heavy construction unit, 819th RED HORSE, from 1998 to 2002, which I realized as a staff sergeant that my responsibilities would only increase from that point forward. RED HORSE has a motto that goes, "Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way." I managed to do all three while I was assigned, and probably learned the majority of what I know today about leadership during that time frame. It is from my personal experiences that I have put together what I feel makes a good leader.

For me, it all starts with having a solid individual foundation that applies on-and off-duty. The basics are to have strong morals, unquestionable integrity and high standards. Be polite, be kind and be helpful. Have pride in our service and respect for our flag. Set the example for our Airmen. And most importantly, be here for the right reasons and not self-serving ones. At the end of the day, if you can't be respected as a person, then you'll have a heck of a time getting anyone to follow you.

Be relevant and willing to do your part when it comes to the mission. To me, this includes more than just being educated or technically proficient at your job. It's about being flexible and ready to change in support of our continually growing and evolving service. Don't get me wrong, I still get a warm fuzzy feeling at the sound of a fighter jet flying overhead, but to a lot of us it's not just about the airplanes anymore. In addition to our Air Force mission we are consistently being asked to support our sister services, and for some the price has been high. Regardless, we all have to be prepared to deploy at a moment's notice into austere conditions, and with that comes a critical need for a physically fit force. If you can't lead your Airmen to the gym or out the door on deployment, then you probably won't be very successful leading them anywhere else.

Use your words wisely; sincere communication is an important part of the job. If you don't speak up, you'll be over looked. If you speak too much, you'll be avoided. You need to be the right mix of politician, counselor and parent. All while telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Maintain your credibility by not making excuses for poor performance, by not feeding the rumor mill and by living up to your word. And as my mom taught me, if you don't have anything nice to say (and it doesn't need to be said) then don't say anything at all.

So based on my many years of experience, having a solid foundation, being relevant, and using your words wisely are the three areas that I feel are most important when being a good leader. You'll agree or disagree with that based on your own experiences. In closing, I'd like to share a quote that I think sums the subject up very nicely.

"A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the quality of his actions and the integrity of his intent. In the end, true leaders are much like eagles ... they don't flock, you find them one at a time." - Anonymous