Real lessons of leadership

  • Published
  • By Col. Matthew Kmon
  • 509th Maintenance Group commander
From the day I entered active-duty I was submitted to a series of classes aimed at making me a maintenance officer, which is where I started an education in 'real life leadership.' However, those opportunities are pale in comparison to what I learned from the Airmen.

I had just gotten home and my wife mentioned that her friend, also a maintainer's wife, said her husband was working late and we would be helping out with their children. Corey told me her friend's husband put himself on 12-hour shifts because he was unhappy with the condition of his jet and wanted to 'square it away.'

It is not uncommon in my world to see Airmen working long hours; getting ready for the week's flying. But this was different, we had just got off of 11 weeks working, seven days a week, and finally had a day off. Despite the circumstances, a dedicated crew chief took initiative to ensure HIS jet was the best. I was proud of my guys, but with deeper reflection I realized I was disappointed in myself for not doing the same.

Months earlier, I was at the archery range where several targets had been knocked over in the winter storms. While I was there one of my munitions guys, showed up to shoot and we decided to fix the range. It was a wet day, the thaw had just set in and within minutes my truck was as stuck in the mud.

The munitions troop made a call and within an hour we had 10 guys from the squadron out in hail storm, on their weekend, helping to get my vehicle unstuck. To me, there is no finer definition of the wingman concept than dropping everything and aiding to an Airman. I remain thankful that I am part of a community that sticks together, or in this case unsticks together.

I have never made aerospace ground equipment a focal point of my briefings where the focus is on the jets and bombs. I never had to worry about them getting the job done. The same can be said for all the unsung heroes in the back shops and support entities in the maintenance family who make it happen because they believe in what they do.
I learned from these warriors that doing the right thing is always noble when you do it quietly, humbly and for the right reasons.

My very first chief is a great example of real lessons learned and I can't remember him ever staking claim to any success our unit enjoyed.

The chief punished in private and praised in public. He had invaluable insight and knew the importance of the mission. When I strayed from the rules, he asked probing questions that got me involved and quietly directed me to success. At times I envied the chief for being right and for the way others perceived him as the 'one in charge.' In hindsight I realize I was getting 'schooled' at every turn. I was being taught about the regulations, about the way to motivate people, and about how to mentor the Airmen.

I learned that you don't have to tell people you are in charge and don't have to have the senior rank to be the one driving the team's efforts. What you need to be is the expert, the confident visionary and the builder of the future. The more you give up the need to bring focus and credit on yourself, the more others respect what you are doing and want to hop on board.

You don't need an advanced degree or a high-paid instructor to learn about leadership, you just need to watch my Airmen. When you think you've reached the pinnacle and learned all you can learn about leadership, just come on out to my Group...My Airmen never stop teaching the real lessons of leadership.