Principles of leadership

  • Published
  • By Maj. Sanjit Singh
  • 509th Contracting Squadron commander
As you all are aware, we've been involved in combat operations for over 17 years. From the time the First Fighter Wing deployed into the eastern province of Saudi Arabia in August of 1990, our Air Force has been fighting continuously across the globe. Our Airmen participated in operations in Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq to name a few.

At the center of all these conflicts have been great leaders, at all levels, who have performed exceptionally in hunting down and destroying America's enemies.

I would like to share keys to leadership success that I have picked up from great leaders I have worked with and for over my brief career.

Visible leadership
A successful foundation begins with ... visible, hands-on, out -front leadership.

Leadership means getting out and interacting with Airmen. Sitting behind the desk and delegation or leading by e-mails does not work. Visible leadership is paramount.

Being a leader is not an 8 to 5 job. When Airmen observe their leaders actively participating in all aspects of duty, at all times of the day and night; weekdays and weekends, it sends a powerful message. They gain a better understanding of the level of dedication that is required and are moved to respond to it.

Larry Bird, the great Boston Celtic basketball player said, "Leadership is getting players to believe in you. If you tell a teammate you're ready to play as tough as you're able to, you better go out there and do it. Players will see right through a phony. And they can tell when you're not giving it all you've got." If you lead from behind a desk, I am willing to bet Airmen will see you as a phony.

"Leadership is diving for a loose ball, getting the crowd involved, getting other players involved. It's being able to take it as well as dish it out," said the basket ball player. "That's the only way you're going to get respect from the players." If you are out among Airmen, visible and leading from the front, you will gain and maintain their respect.

Leadership is your foundation. However, there are many principles that must work in concert for you to be successful.

First, mentoring ... it's our responsibility and that of all of our commanders and supervisors to prepare our next generation of Airmen warriors to take the lead. We all are charged with developing future leaders ... those who will lead our Air Force after you and I have retired.

The key to mentoring lies in the depth and duration of the relationship. The essence of mentoring revolves around shared experience. The mentor is involved in the mission with the Airmen he or she is coaching.

The mentor intentionally and strategically challenges Airmen to take on obstacles that will cause them to grow; gives them stretch goals to achieve; to develop skills that may be emerging; to take risks by mentoring Airmen to solve problems on their own. A mentor will also help an aspiring leader to learn by reflecting on what has happened and giving feedback.

Mentoring involves taking care of Airmen. Lead every Airman by looking after their best interest. By guiding Airmen to resolve personal and professional issues, you are mentoring. They are learning through your actions. If you care, they will care as they grow in their careers.

I have found successful mentoring and leadership requires listening and knowing no issue is too small when it comes to taking care of Airmen. Something as simple as asking "How is your family doing?" resonates that you are tuned in and that you care.

When Airmen feel like they are part of a team that is working towards a greater goal, they will work hard not to disappoint you. I challenge you all to guide Airmen to be great and they will do the same as they develop their leadership skills and pass it on to future leaders.

Mentoring is lifting an Airman's vision to higher sights, the raising of an Airman's performance to a higher standard, the building of an Airman's personality beyond its normal limitations.

Work environment
Second, provide an environment for every Airman to excel in. Establishing the right environment for our Airmen has never been more important. Our mission is too critical to minimize the development, growth and nurturing our people.

Dignity and respect
Third, treat every Airman with dignity and respect. This is a very simple principle. It is something we learned in kindergarten but it can be forgotten when the pressure is turned up or frustrations set in. Nobody is more important than anyone else. We may feel like it at times, but we are not. If you treat everyone with dignity and respect, they will do the same. It is that simple.

Team mind-set
Next, strive for team-based wins, not individual ones. There is a saying that frequent individual wins are paved with numerous team loses. I'm sure you have seen countless examples to back this up throughout your careers. Many an individual will win the battle, but the team will win the war.

Finally, I hope you noticed something with these leadership principles. Great leadership is not always centered on the leader, but on how a he or she can motivate and move a team in the right direction. This requires vision.

In fact, it is a clear vision and imagination that separates successful leaders from those that fail.

We have the greatest Airmen in the world. We have the greatest Air Force the world has ever seen. It will take dedication, hard-work and most importantly leadership, yours and my leadership that will see us successfully through the future. Our people expect it and we owe them nothing less.