Leadership philosophy from my perspective

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Leadership is "job one" for all Air Force members. It is also fundamental to every organization including church and youth groups, non-profit organizations, small and large businesses, and any other entity united by common interest. Most successful organizations enjoy even more success with effective leaders at all levels within the organization.

Leadership is also fundamental to life because human beings crave leadership. Some want to be leaders, but most are content to remain followers. This trend creates opportunity for those who seek and assume leadership roles. The challenge for all leaders is to be good leaders because, oddly, humans crave leadership so much they will follow bad leaders--it is an interesting phenomenon.

I believe leadership is the ability for a person to motivate others to do something they would not otherwise do. In order to make leadership a practical skill set, it must be underpinned by philosophy. My leadership philosophy has three components: motivating subordinates, guiding the organization to common goals and decision-making which benefits the organization. When coupled, these three elements get results.

Motivation is an important component of leadership because it challenges subordinates to expand their comfort zones and achieve goals. Psychology teaches us each person is different and responsive to different stimuli--generally categorized as positive or negative. This is a fancy way of saying leaders must motivate different people differently.

The concept is analogous to a carpenter's tool box; sometimes a screwdriver gets the job done and sometimes it requires a hammer. Outstanding leaders discern which tool is needed and when. This requires leaders to know their people and organizational culture intimately.

Guidance is the second leadership element. My grandfather used to say, "You can't get there, if you don't know where there is." Guidance is the combination of setting goals and charting the roadmap to achieve those goals. Embrace and create opportunities to share your guidance often and via different methods. Again, lessons from human psychology teach us adults receive and digest information in different ways....be dynamic and flexible.

Effective decision-making is my final leadership element. Whether you are a formal leader, such as a flight commander or flight chief, or the informal "go-to" person in your organization, your Airmen expect you to make decisions. Many inexperienced leaders feel they need all available information to make the perfect decision; however, I believe there are no perfect decisions. Do not be afraid to make decisions based on incomplete but sufficient information. Then move out. Most decisions are not life threatening and can be modified later if all or partially incorrect. Waiting for perfect information paralyzes organizations, impedes progress and results in irrelevance.

As Airmen we are fortunate to have outstanding leadership training and education materials and programs to make us better leaders. This opportunity is not as prevalent in the private sector. For instance, every Professional Military Education course has a block on leadership; all levels have recommended reading lists with a portion devoted to leadership and are available in our libraries. Take advantage of those opportunities by learning and honing leadership skills--it strengthens our great Air Force and makes us better citizens.

All of us will hang up our Air Force uniforms at some point, but leadership skills endure and benefit future organizations. Civilian organizations vigorously recruit former military members for their robust leadership capabilities. I challenge you to create your own leadership philosophy, hone your skills and be the best leader you can be.