Leadership -- an A1C's perspective

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- So, you've graduated ALS and are assigned your first troop to supervise.

Here's my question - do you have what it takes to be a leader, or are you simply the manager?

There is a difference between leading your troops and managing them, and it's a quality we have all experienced in one way or another.

One difference is a manager directs people, while a leader inspires people. Dwight Eisenhower once said leadership "is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it."

Leadership is a mindset, an attitude, of the individual in power, and can become easily corrupted by the desire to control.

As humans, we tend to resent someone else directing our actions. Just think of the way a child reacts when told to do something. The child is going to obey because he has to, afraid of the consequences for disobedience.

Simon Sinek, author of the book Start With Why, said, "we follow those who lead not because we have to but because we want to. We follow those who lead not for them but for ourselves."

As a leader, the ability to align your follower's goals with the goals of your organization or mission is crucial.

Why are your troops working on a specific project? This is a question they are asking themselves, but is it one that you are answering?

You can certainly get your Airmen to do something because you told them to; this is not inspired work, however, but simply direction from a manager.

You can achieve the same results and get better quality of work by helping them see the big picture.

A scenario - you tell your troop to dig a ditch. Now, he will dig the ditch because you told him to, but chances are he will not like it and he certainly will not go above and beyond.

Think how much more hard work and dedication the troop will put into digging if you explain to him why he is digging the ditch. It could be the drainage ditch for a road connecting new facilities on base, or for the foundation of a new medical center.

Obviously, in this situation, understanding the reasons why could help inspire better performance.

Explaining the why, and inspiring instead of directing, will more than likely produce better results and gain the trust and respect of your Airmen. This is something I have learned firsthand.

As an airman first class, I have been fortunate enough to work under several good leaders. They command infinitely more respect than those who have been my managers.

To paraphrase what General George S. Patton said about leadership, do not tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and help them understand why, and let them surprise you with their results.