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What Kind Of Leader Are You?

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Michael Grimm
  • 43rd Airlift Wing Command Chief
I received an e-mail the other day from an Airman who recently completed First Term Airman's Course. The name or the unit is not important, since there is a possibility that any one of our Airmen could have asked this same question. 

The question posed was 'Are we as servicemembers supposed to stop and salute at retreat?' We all know the answer to that question since the answer is taught in all basic training programs, whether it is Basic Military Training School, Officer Training School, Reserve Officer Training Corps or the United States Air Force Academy. 

The second question this Airman asked troubled me a bit. This Airman wanted to know what to do if the Airman not rendering proper customs was a noncommissioned officer or commissioned officer. Now the answer might be easy to some. We might assume the individual in question did not know the rules. As a courtesy, we might go up to the individual and remind them that at retreat we stand and salute. However, I would argue that the NCO and officer knew very well what they were doing was wrong. What they didn't know is that the Airman was watching. 

Over the last few months I have had an ongoing conversation with one of our base support agencies about the Airmen's perceptions of leadership. We would speak in generalities on leading today's generation and what today's Airmen want from their leaders. I believe that Airmen today need and want the same thing I wanted when I was a young Airman: leadership that leads by example. So for all the NCO and Senior NCOs out there, what kind of leader are you? Are you the type of leader whom you would have wanted when you were younger? As promotions are released over the summer months and new members are inducted into our SNCO corps, and new NCO are inducted into our NCO corps, ask yourself what kind of leader are you? Are you the type of leader who is leading by example -- always working harder and more determined than everyone else? Or are you the one who cuts out early when everyone one else is getting the mission done and working overtime. Are you the type of leader who requires your Airmen to go to physical training, but you are nowhere to be found because you have "more important" things to do? Are you the type of leader who, now that you have been promoted, say "I have arrived?" Are you the type of leader who uses "I" when things are going well instead of using "we?" or when things are going bad you are use the word "them" instead of "me?" 

A number of years ago I worked with a training instructor who would tell me with every flight she pushed, how bad her Airmen were and how I always managed to get the good Airmen. The background on her was when her Airmen were working, she was in the smoking area, or off doing something else instead of being engaged with her Airmen. 

One day after hearing her tell me for the 100th time how lucky I was, and how easy I had it while she had to work harder than I did because of her "bad" Airman, I asked her what the statistical probability was that 50 bad Airmen would end up in her flight time and time again, while the rest of us got the good Airmen. Now you don't need to be a math whiz to see the common denominator in this math problem is the instructor. So I ask, are you the type of leader who always seems to have the worst duty section with the worst Airmen in the squadron when other leaders seem to have the best duty sections and best Airmen? 

Our Airmen today deserve the best -- the best equipment, the best training, the best quality of life programs, and most importantly, the best leadership at all levels. Tons of books have been written on the subject of leadership. If you read all of them, you would see one common theme is evident throughout most leadership books. That one pervading thought is that leaders get the job done through people, and effective leaders lead by example. For a lot of our Airmen who have been or will be selected for promotion, I offer congratulations. Now it is time to ask yourself what kind of leader do you want to be? Are you the type of leader who Airmen look up to simply because you outrank them, or are you the type of leader they look up to because they respect you and you lead them by example. Leadership is a privilege not a chore. Leadership is more than the "flavor of the month Dr. Phil book" or the quotes on the bottom of a picture hanging in the hallway. 

Now to answer the Airman's question: yes, when hearing retreat sounded at the end of the day you are required to stand at attention, face the music and render the proper honors. This is also a privilege we should look forward to, not run from. To all of us in leadership positions, what is more important than if senior leadership is watching what we do is that our Airmen are watching what we do also.