Not just someone’s boss

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Brett Gooden
  • 509th Force Support Squadron commander
As with any endeavor that is done correctly, much time is required to do it properly. This is especially true when it comes to leading people. There is a tremendous difference between being a leader and merely being someone's boss or superior. The former takes commitment, while the latter is a function of position.
In the Air Force this usually means someone wears an extra stripe or rank over another and his or her name sits higher on the organizational chart.

Many people attest to having had at least one supervisor who left much to be desired in the leadership arena. Retired Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf once said, "You learn far more from negative leadership than from positive leadership because you learn how not to do it. And, therefore, you learn how to do it."

Effective leadership is really quite simple, even if you haven't witnessed poor leadership firsthand. The basic formula includes trusting your people, challenging them to broaden their personal comfort zone in order to attain a goal, listening to and understanding their ideas, and rewarding their effort and performance. While these actions are essential, nothing is more crucial than knowing your people. This step comes before all others.

Many people search for that simple solution to becoming an effective leader by concentrating on the steps rather than their people. They focus on a checklist of events instead of getting to know who they supervise. What motivates one person may not another.

Those who are married with children may behave differently than those who are single. Some grew up in the 90s, while others spent their teen years after 9/11. Some may want to remain in the Air Force for a career, while others are content completing their first enlistment.
A leader's responsibility is to find out what makes that person tick and then develop a plan for maximizing that individual's performance.

Once you've gotten to know your subordinate and discovered how best to lead that individual, be careful not to use those same techniques for leading others. Everybody is unique, and a leader needs to invest the time to find out what motivates each person.

Effective leadership also requires the resolve to apply discipline when appropriate. Having the fortitude to do so sends a clear message to the recipient. This requires a leader to keep his or her emotions in check while addressing the individual and the behavior in question. It also informs all others under your charge that you have standards of conduct and performance that are unwavering. You hold people accountable. Period.

Finally, effective leadership requires authenticity. Generations ago people expressed authenticity when they gave their word, and their word was their bond. To some it may sound like today's latest buzzword, but it simply means being real with people. Authenticity is consistency, genuineness and truthfulness. Someone who is authentic is interested in what others have to say. Such a person values all people and treats them with respect and dignity.

Former Secretary of State and retired Gen. Colin Powell was known for his authenticity and once said, "I try to be the same person I was yesterday."

The enduring way in which he treated heads of state was the same manner in which he dealt with the wait staff at a state dinner.

These ideas are likely nothing new and perhaps not profound, but they are true. They separate an effective leader from simply a boss.