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Growing future Airmen with a variety of leadership styles

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Benjamin A. Jans
  • 375th Comptroller Squadron commander

I love going to Airmen Leadership School graduations.  There is an air of confidence and accomplishment from our graduates that permeates the room.  What I appreciate the most is how our ALS instructors turn young, motivated men and women into future leaders who will soon be in charge of our most precious resource … Airmen.

I had the pleasure of speaking to one of our recent ALS graduates, SrA Xandra Rojas, 375 Security Forces Squadron, and she told me they learned several leadership styles: transformational, authoritative, etc.  She said she would be in charge of a few Airmen when she returned to work, and was looking forward to practicing what she learned in ALS. 

We discussed how she would need to use multiple leadership styles to properly supervise Airmen.  We also agreed leaders always have to be good followers as well.  It simply warmed my heart to know she was ready to put her new-found knowledge to good use.

I think back to when I was an Airman and my willingness to be a great follower and wanting to learn how to be a great future leader.  Being a great follower has guided me into transforming my followership skills into a blend of multiple leadership styles necessary to leading Airmen, accomplishing mission goals, and developing new leaders. 

Transitioning from being a follower into leadership roles meant I had to learn how do my job very well. It also meant developing a good working relationship with my leadership and learning how to communicate up to my supervisors. I also needed to trust and support their decisions, as well as take the initiative on any task with a good attitude to meet our mission requirements. 

In turn, what I experienced from my unit leadership was their trust in my abilities to accomplish tasks and leading people, and they showed appreciation for what my teams and I were able to accomplish.  Their trust and appreciation enhanced my self-confidence, which led to being assigned more difficult tasks, such as leading more projects and Airmen.  Along each step of the way, I was willing to show my unit leadership that I was able to do any job, lead Airmen and be committed to the mission. 

Over the years, my leadership style has become very flexible and highly adaptable to the context and conditions of my environment.  I try to attune myself with how my personnel feel and find the right methods of motivating them so we can accomplish the mission.  I owe this to retired Chief Master Sgt. James Gill and retired Lt. Col. Jeffrey Kelly.  Both of them always knew how to motivate everyone using multiple leadership styles. 

For instance, they were direct when they needed to be to get the mission done, but delegated responsibility to everyone.  They were also firm believers in everyone being responsible for their actions.  Plus, they always made time to mentor, provide effective feedback, and recognized their troops for doing a good job.  They proved committing to just one style of leadership, such as authoritative, coercive or positional power, was not the way to influence or motivate personnel to work in an organization.

The authors of “Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence” also support the idea of deploying as many leadership styles as possible to be an effective leader and this forms the basis of my complex leadership style. 

Considering this, good leaders know how to tap into their personal and professional values, traits, styles and behaviors to lead personnel and run an effective organization.  However, I will also add caring for the well-being of personnel has to be part of that complex leadership style. 

To me, people are the most important asset, and if a person is an effective leader, they do not have to drive their people hard to get the job done.  I personally like to build a trusting relationship with my personnel because it allows subordinates to feel they are valued and what they do matters to me.  This allows me to understand the personnel on a much deeper level, which then makes it possible for me to determine how I can help develop someone I believe will make a great leader. 

Interestingly enough, I took a leadership survey through Proscan, offered by the 375th Air Mobility Wing community support office, and it supports what I have mentioned above.  It said my most effective and natural way to lead is through persuasive leadership, which mean I use a selling style that includes influencing and reading people. 

Can I be direct … yes.  Can I be more inspiring … when I need to be as long as it serves a practical purpose.  As the authors of “Primal Leadership” suggest, having a larger repertoire of emotional intelligence strengths, which include developing others, building bonds, teamwork, and collaboration to name a few, can make a leader more effective because those leaders can foster the very best climate and performance, which is something I strive to achieve in any unit I lead.  

This is no different than what the graduates of our Airmen Leadership School want to do … they too want to make difference and positively lead and influence their Airmen.  The future of our Air Force will be good hands.