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A checklist for successful leadership

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- After serving more than 25 years in our Air Force, I have always looked forward to the opportunity to get a "peek under the hood" so to speak of what senior leaders in my wing and in the Air Force felt was important enough to write about and publish in our base papers. Some are very informative, some entertaining, and some just outright questionable; but educational nonetheless. I now have the awesome opportunity to take what I have learned over those 25 years and pass it along to this generation of leaders. That's easier said than done.

I've always had a fetish for lists. I'm a huge fan of David Letterman's Top Ten list, I'll stay up late just to hear the last 18 songs on the 80's Hair Band Top 100 hits of all time, and I never pass up an opportunity to make a checklist for even the simplest of tasks. That being said, I had always wished someone would just give me a good checklist of the things I needed to do to be a good leader. So without any further ado, here are five tried and true tactics that have served me over the years:

Build integrity within your unit. The first thing that might come to mind when you hear this will likely be our first core value "Integrity First." When many of us ponder what that means, we usually conclude that it refers to maintaining a high standard of personal integrity, or adherence to a code of moral values. While it is true that we expect the utmost in personal integrity from all members within the Air Force, that's not exactly what I'm referring to. You need to read on in the dictionary to find the definition of integrity I'm talking about; "the state of being complete or undivided." It's my contention that by building a unit that has a strong sense of unity and cohesion, sense of purpose and interdependence, you set the stage to ensure that you develop Airmen who fully embrace our first core value. Both definitions provide key ingredients to full mission capability.

Build personal credibility. What I'm talking about here is to work on your ability to be believable. Eventually every one of us will end up in a position that requires our input into solving a problem, project or issue, many of which will require decisions on courses of action or commitment of resources. Leaders want to be certain that those in a position to advise or influence those decisions have a high level of credibility. So how can you build personal credibility? Certainly experience lends to your credibility, which comes over time. Likewise, your specialty area adds to your credibility, specifically the knowledge and skills you possess as a result of being qualified in those areas. But when you are lacking in those areas and need to earn credibility quickly, follow this simple trick: observe it, touch it, smell it, listen to it, and if necessary, taste it. All too many times Airmen young and old alike default to attempting to describe problems or derive solutions for issues they have never even witnessed or experienced first-hand. Follow this technique to instantly boost your credibility.

Lead as if your resources are unconstrained. You might ask yourself, "how can he say that, doesn't he know we're in a budget deficit?" Yes, I know! But I am talking more about a philosophy than a course of action. I'll tell you a story. At a previous assignment we were preparing for an upcoming Unit Compliance Inspection. In the Aircraft Maintenance Unit support section, we spent weeks painstakingly inspecting each and every tool to ensure that everything was serviceable and in its proper place. Thousands of man-hours invested to ensure we were ready. When the team arrived they were thoroughly impressed with how well everything was managed and organized. But they identified the safety goggles in every tool kit were scratched to the point that they actually hindered more than they helped. When I asked the shift supervisor why we didn't replace the less than $3 goggles, he stated, "We were trying to save money." Now, I applaud him for trying to be fiscally responsible. But he did not give leadership the opportunity to re-prioritize what funds we did have, and as a result our technicians were not adequately provided a tool they needed to safely get their job done. I have found that those who lead as if their resources are constrained make little effort in taking the initiative, being innovative or improving, essentially giving up because they believe they'll never get the resources they need, and therefore settle on the status quo. On the other hand, the leader who leads as if his/her resources are unconstrained believes he/she can do anything, and as a result they often do more!

Never pass up an opportunity to say thank you. Leaders for centuries have searched for the most effective means of motivating their subordinates. Some do so by inciting fear in those they lead. Still others have sought to motivate their subordinates with bonuses, time-off, awards and other incentives. But I believe that it's the basic human need to be wanted and appreciated for your contributions, validated by words of encouragement and thanks from a supervisor that motivate the most. While in the military we can't easily give pay raises, bonuses or extra vacation time, we can always give an honest and heartfelt thank you. It's the easiest and most cost-effective, yet overlooked, means of motivating your Airmen and showing them your appreciation for a job well done.

Smile. I smile a lot, and why not? I have a wonderful family who loves me, I love my job, I'm surrounded by people tied together by a common bond, and the list goes on and on. I've found that a little positive attitude and genuine enthusiasm go a long way, and that no matter how bad I might think things are, there's always someone who has it worse. Who wants to be led by a grump anyway? So smile!