Commander offers lessons in leadership

Air Force Space Command 25th Anniversary Logo

Air Force Space Command 25th Anniversary Logo

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Leadership comes in many forms and isn't a trait that mysteriously appears when someone is appointed to a position of authority. True leadership is never asking your subordinates to do something that you wouldn't do yourself. Being a leader is going the extra mile to do what is right, because it is right and not because it is in vogue or because it puts you in the limelight. Here is a quick lesson that drives home my point.
During one of my first assignments, my commander gave me a few questions to ponder. I answered all the questions with relative ease except the last one which read, "What is the first name of the person that cleans our building?" I thought this was some kind of trick question or the old "snipe-hunting trick for a new lieutenant." I had seen the cleaning woman a hundred times. She was short and in her 50s, but I had never even stopped to introduce myself or ask her name. 

I asked my commander if he was serious about me answering and he responded, "absolutely." 

He went on to explain, "in your career you will meet many people, all are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say good morning." 

I've never forgotten this lesson. Throughout my career in the Air Force, I've applied this leadership philosophy in all my actions and I think it's made me a better commander. The name of the person that currently cleans my building is Min. 

Another story that illustrates a valuable leadership lesson is:

In ancient times, a king placed a boulder in the middle of a roadway, then hid himself to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the king's wealthiest advisors and courtiers came by and simply walked around it and blamed the king for not keeping the roads clear. No one did anything about it or worked to have the stone removed. A peasant came by with a large load of vegetables and upon approaching the boulder, immediately laid down his load and tried to move the rock. After much straining and toiling, he finally moved the rock and noticed a purse underneath it containing many gold coins and a note from the king indicating that the gold was for the person that moved the boulder from the road. The peasant learned what many others never understood, every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve one's condition and come away a better person. 

Leadership is much the same way. There are many obstacles, but if you treat these obstacles as valuable lessons and use them to become a better leader, we all benefit in the end.