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Master Sgt. Daniel Tatum, 169th Civil Engineer Squadron first sergeant

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Daniel Tatum, the 169th Civil Engineer Squadron 1st Sgt., was awarded South Carolina Air National Guard 1st Sgt. of the Year for 2018. Portrait taken Dec. 18, 2018. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Caycee Watson)

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

“Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership,” said Colin Powell. This has long been one of my favorite quotes about leadership. Leadership in the military is built upon service to those in your charge. Even the origins of the word imply it. The term originates from the French word, sergeant, which means a “servant, a valet or a court official.” All these words derive from the Latin term, serviēns, which means “servant or soldier.” As a First Sergeant we are charged with being the first servants to our amazing Airmen. Once you make the rank of Master Sergeant, it is implied that not only are you a master of your job, but you have mastered the concept of serving ranks both junior and senior to you. That is how we continue to build an enduring and lethal force.

Leadership is not an inherent trait. Charisma, charm and confidence can certainly help command a room, but true leadership is something that can be learned over time. It is a very fragile thing because each action you take can either cement the desire of those around you to follow you or shatter their vision of you as a leader. So how do you learn leadership? There are three ways you can mold yourself into the kind of leader that Airmen deserve.

First, have a mentor. Pick the brain of someone who has leadership skills you want to emulate. Learn from their mistakes and challenges. A good mentor will be open and honest about the struggles they went through and lessons they learned along the way. Not only that, but a good mentor will be honest about what you can do to improve yourself.

The second thing you can do to become a better leader is never stop learning. The 21st century is an amazing time to be alive. We have an uncanny access to vast amounts of information right at our fingertips. Read books on leadership, listen to podcasts and TED Talks and attend virtual seminars. It doesn’t have to be military related either. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from amazing leaders all over the world and throughout time.

Finally, the last thing I challenge you to do is understand the value of the experiences you have gone through in your life and career. I have always maintained that bad leaders have taught me more in my career than good leaders. We have all had that difficult relationship with someone outranks us. Analyze it and take lessons away from it, instead of just complaining about it. What went wrong? What information played into that supervisors’ decisions that made you consider them a poor leader? What can you do to avoid those same pitfalls?

My father had a favorite saying, “Remember, if you are leading and no one is following, then you’re just taking a walk.“

Stay Ready, Stay Resilient, Stay Lethal