Three easy steps to becoming a great leader

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- Over the years, people have conducted extensive studies to try and determine the elusive secret to great leadership. Or, more specifically, what makes an individual a great leader. It's easy to tell when someone is not a great leader, but determining what it takes to become great is not so easy. There are a myriad of traits, styles and characteristics common to all leaders. But to narrow leadership down to one penultimate skill would not do it justice; despite the fact you simply can't. Sure, the military defines specific positions as leadership positions, but the position itself does not make that person a great leader. It takes much, much more.

During my career, I've discovered three important skills inherent to great leadership. These skills can be applied to any situation one might encounter. Moreover, they are cyclical in nature; each tied to the other and know no rank or pay grade. For those who are great leaders, they become a part of who you are. For those who wish to become great leaders, they should practice these skills at every available opportunity.

First, be a great communicator. The ability to communicate effectively is something you can never be too good at. Briefings and meetings are commonplace in today's Air Force. In these arenas, senior leaders make mission-critical decisions based off the information presented. Therefore, you must be able to articulate your thoughts clearly. A failure to do so can have a far-reaching impact on mission execution. Strive to improve your communication skills whenever possible.

This next one is even more important than communicating; listen, listen and listen. I'm not talking about what you think you heard, but understanding exactly what is being conveyed. Too many times we see where one thing was asked, and a completely different result follows. If you need to, repeat what is being asked of you for clarification and understanding; it can save a lot of time and effort in the long run. The bottom line here is "great leaders are also great listeners."

Lastly, know when it's time to follow and when it's time to lead. I cannot emphasize this enough. Leading and following are uniquely different but they both go hand-in hand. Though experience is key to this one, the more you learn how to differentiate when each one applies, the greater you will become. Truly great leaders balance both of these effortlessly.

So you ask, "Is it really just that simple?" Yes and no. As Airmen, we encounter a multitude of situations that aid us in our quest to become great leaders. Simply being in the Air Force affords us the opportunity to exercise these skills on a daily basis. Take advantage of these opportunities as they present themselves. Becoming a great leader takes time, trial and error and most importantly, a willingness to learn. Nothing in this world comes easy. But armed with these skills, you will be well on your way.