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Wanting to be led

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- One thing I love about the Air Force is that it is made up of great folks from all walks of life and with backgrounds as varied as each individual nametag on their uniform. The people who make up our Air Force are a slice of American society and with those varied backgrounds each person brings a unique perspective to the part they play in accomplishing the mission.

Everyone, officer and enlisted, came into the Air Force for their own unique reasons and had a similar unique expectation of what life in the military would be like. No matter the expectation, not one person I have ever met had the expectation they would not be told what to do once they joined. Not one person raised their hand and skipped the portion of the oath that required them to obey orders. As a matter of fact, I would propose a vast majority of Airmen not only need it on a daily basis, they want it. It is the structure and discipline of this profession that draws most people to it.

Over time, we have come to view leadership and the responsibilities that go with it as a "helping relationship" when leading Airmen. Whether it is a societal change or it was brought on during the heyday of quality initiatives, the concept of leading Airmen has seemed to evolve over time.

The concepts of followership and servant leadership are taught and emphasized in our professional military education at all levels. While these concepts have merit and are useful tools when needed, they don't replace good old fashioned leadership.

The perceived need to analyze what makes people tick and the hesitation of lessening someone's self-worth when providing direct feedback have become ingrained in our way of thinking. The need to explain decisions and "tiger team" solutions have become a norm in meeting organizational objectives. Giving simple and direct orders without explanation, whether it's from an Airman, a NCO or an officer, has become a "worst case scenario" style of leadership rather than a standard norm.

Our folks are not fragile; they have endured a decade of deployments. They volunteered to join during on-going, violent wars. They continuously get the mission accomplished with fewer resources and fewer personnel within their units. They are the best America has to offer and are unique as individuals.

From the Airmen in the shops to the officers in command, we all joined to be led; we did not initially volunteer with an assumption that our opinion on how to be led mattered. Basic leadership is simple and does not require a vast amount of theoretical study. It is clear and direct; not vague or an exercise in mind-reading. It is setting the example in all you do; it is not a matter of convenience because of rank or position. It is correcting problems on the spot, in public or private and recognizing solid work. It is compliance and adherence to standards as normal; not as "going above and beyond". It is as harsh and as compassionate as needed. Leadership is taking care of the folks who accomplish the mission and adjusting those who don't. Good people want to be led and it is our responsibility to meet that need.