Are you ready to lead?

  • Published
  • By Col. David Garfield
  • 944th Operations Group commander
Many people speculate on the age old question, 'Are people born to lead or are they trained to lead'? It's a subject that has been debated thoroughly throughout history and will probably be debated for years to come. But, to keep this short, I'll focus on the latter point. Training yourself to be a leader takes two essential ingredients: experience and observations.

All experience is good experience, however, you must keep in mind that the experience you receive must match the duties required to occupy the command or SNCO seat. To QC career progression one needs to ask these questions:
  • Have I taken the initiative to inform my supervisors of a desire to lead by stating future career goals and objectives?
  • Have I gained the experience required through disciplined training and diversified job accomplishments?
  • Did I learn leadership traits from supervisory positions?
  • Have I determined what kind of leader I want to be by observing those previously assigned over me?
  • And am I ready to accept the responsibility that comes with the unit's leadership positions?
If your answer is yes, then hopefully your time to lead is near.

Grooming yourself for a leadership position takes years of experience and observations. Experience, of course, comes from your job accomplishments which include many facets such as the rigors of flying, AFSC upgrade and continuation training, deployed contingency operations (combat), schools, training courses and conferences, PME, etc. whatever is required to gain the experience and credibility needed to occupy the leadership seat. The bottom line: take an active part in your own development, strive to learn as much as you can about the units mission, then when asked to lead, you will have immediate credibility when stepping into the seat.

Leveraging experience is typically the easy part of leadership development because doing your job offers tangible results. However, the 'observations of leadership traits' one gleans from those previously assigned over them holds a different connotation. Observing how leaders handle themselves, primarily in the fields of integrity, selflessness and excellence in all they do, shape what the 'leader in waiting' deem as either good/bad, right/wrong traits that will shape their personality and effect what kind of leader they will ultimately be. I keep things in perspective from time to time by thinking about a quote from Capt Dick Winters in the movie Band of Brothers. Capt Winters had just caught a young Lieutenant playing poker with a group of NCOs and said this; "Never put yourself in a position to take from your men." This is an important statement to understand when observing leaders. The 'take' issue can present itself in many forms: additional pay periods (mandays), extra overtime, accepting good deals (tickets to an event, dinner out with VIPs, going off station to favorable areas), etc., variables that the leader takes advantage of before first giving to his 'men'. Leaders might not always make the right calls when accomplishing the mission, but the calls they make when it comes to excess privileges is a different matter. When leaders put themselves ahead of their people, when they show an air of entitlement or act as an elitist, the leader's credibility, respect begins to wane, the cohesiveness of the unit starts to crumble and, in the end, their reputation suffers. Being a leader is not about power, perks, but mostly of humility. Subordinates look to their leader as the one they trust most. They look to them as 'having their back.' Leaders should understand that they represent their subordinates, be thankful for having been selected to lead and then return the favor by doing all they can to take care of their people.

The very nature of command is unique to the military; there is no civilian equivalent for this level of trust, authority, and responsibility. The leader's utmost abilities in both job performance and personnel conduct will set the standard for the entire organization. Through job accomplishments and reflection on personal conduct one then only needs to ask; "am I ready to lead?"