Start out right

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Les Brown
  • 28th Maintenance Group
In my 29-years of service, I've experienced many changes resulting from the Air Force constantly evolving to adapt for the future. Each evolution came with fast-paced decisions to deal with sudden change. But one thing remained constant: the need for junior leaders to stand-out -- engrained with the pride to fulfill "basic leadership 101." 

This may sound too obvious, like a cliché but it takes a special person to go against the grain. 

Putting on an extra stripe or bar does not make one a leader, but it will invite the potential for being thrust into a leadership role. Likewise, roles, such as being in charge of a section or a unit, do not automatically bestow one the honor of being called a leader. Rather, the only honor bestowed is the responsibility of the role itself. How one fulfills their role determines if he is a leader or a role taker (which is one who performs in a position of responsibility without leader convictions). So then, who are the true leaders and what earns them this title? 

One attribute that sets apart the role taker from the leader is dedicated persistence to lead with obligation. Simply put, as a leader you are obligated to do the right thing no matter how you will be perceived by your subordinates, peers and superiors. Step away from the crowd of role takers who all too often become part of an accepted norm -- that of being a "sideliner" or a "popularity chaser.'"

A sideliner has no concern for enforcing or correcting the standards they control while the popularity chaser strives to be liked up and down the chain. A fine line separates these two types of role takers since their goals are definitely to avoid conflict and sacrificing doing the right thing. Neither type leads with obligation and neither are of any help to prepare young members to become true junior leaders. 

Most of us have heard the saying, "I am not in this job to make friends." This concept has much merit since it strives to prevent the mixing of professional business with personal associations. These words are an unwritten guide, followed among the core of leaders who accept their commitment to ensure the proper balance of fostering highly efficient work processes along with good discipline and esprit de corps. 

The leader here is the one who upholds this concept when running their section, no matter how big or small, with the mindset to not give in to the pressures of unpopular decisions. A junior leader who commits to doing what is right, gains acceptance of subordinates. They, in turn, will become proud to stand up for their leader's principles. These subordinates will begin their growth and share in fostering their 'obligation to lead' among lower levels and will continue to do so at higher levels as they advance as junior leaders. 

To lead with obligation is to go against the norm and evolve all people and programs touched to be better than before you took over your position. You cannot allow your area of responsibility to function without your guidance as a leader. You have the obligation to seek and correct standing deficiencies. You have the obligation to make tough, unpopular changes. You have the obligation to give honest feedback. 

You're obligated to lead -- not to avoid stepping on toes, making waves or hurting people's feelings. All of these fallacies of cohesion work to stagnate section performance, hinder personnel professional growth and destroy leadership credibility now and for the future. 

So, why am I focusing on addressing our junior leaders? It's because they will soon become our senior leaders ... and I personally don't want them to start their leadership careers as role takers. It becomes harder to change over the years once role taker traits are formed. Essentially this trait becomes expected of you from subordinates, peers and superiors -- as such, you're likely to remain on the same path. 

It's easiest and best to step up from the start, be counted and mold yourself to do the right "thang." I ask: are you that special someone who will accept the obligation of what it takes to be an Air Force leader?