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May Chief's Perspective

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. David Keller, flight chief with the 169th Maintenance Group at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., April 12, 2018. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Megan Floyd)

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. David Keller, flight chief with the 169th Maintenance Group at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., April 12, 2018. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Megan Floyd)

MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. --

I want to take a moment to look at leadership from within a great organization. How each one of us can be a part of that leadership team and ultimately how our leadership input will impact the organization. I am a traditional guardsman, with 12 plus years on active duty and another 18 years as a SCANG member, for a total of 31 years. I have seen firsthand how the impact from just one individual can affect the overall leadership of a section, a unit, and ultimately the wing level. One person’s leadership strength can directly impact co-workers and that influence can affect the team, which can ultimately affect the unit.

Leadership is most commonly viewed from a top-down approach. This statement is only true if someone is looking from a point of view quite far away. The truth is that leadership mostly occurs from the middle of an organization, not from the top. All great organizations have leaders integrated throughout, which ensures that everyone has the same motivation and the same goal in mind.

At each level within a unit, you can have an impact on the organization. Developing leadership from wherever you are within an organization is not easy but with practice, it can have a dramatic effect. One of the best ways to help in any great organization is to develop and manage ourselves. As a member of our unit, be the one that others can count on. Be proactive, take the initiative to look ahead at upcoming training in Advanced Distributed Learning Service (ADLS), medical requirements, Professional Military Education, and fitness testing. If your section supervisor has to constantly spend time and energy on your readiness, you might be perceived as someone that drains resources away from the unit. However, if you manage yourself well, your section supervisor will perceive you as someone to count on when opportunity knocks. 

Don’t buy into the myth that, “when I get to the top, then I’ll learn to lead.” Some of the best leaders are not at the top but are within an organization. Leadership is not an all-or-nothing movement. Leading from the middle of an organization can be very frustrating and difficult at times, so you need to develop the skills to lead from every direction. While leading in a downward direction is where most people see themselves as they progress in their career, leading others from the side or trying to lead up can be very rewarding. Develop your leadership skills early and constantly work on improving them. Pursuing excellence in leadership gives you the ability to change lives and impact your organization.

There are many published works on leadership. Some of the bestsellers covering this subject are on the recommended reading list from the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, located on the Air Force Portal. Opinions about good leadership qualities vary, however, the most common qualities agreed by many are, but not limited to; honesty, integrity, confidence, good communication, compassion and the ability to inspire. In addition to these qualities, noted author John C. Maxwell emphasizes that a good leader must keep in mind: don’t be afraid to make mistakes, ask for advice and be open to learning from others. Make the effort to add influence and value to your organization, even if you don’t make it to the top. Be the leader that you would want to follow.

I would like to close by sharing three of my favorite leadership quotes.

“The most powerful leadership tool you have is your own personal example,” John Wooden.

“Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. That’s the price we have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal,” Vince Lombardi.

“It is true that integrity alone won’t make you a leader, but without integrity, you will never be one," Zig Ziglar.