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How to lead America’s Airmen

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Antonio Love
  • 375th Medical Support Squadron Commander
I define leadership as the ability to make things happen by encouraging and channeling the contributions of others, taking a stand on and addressing important issues, and acting as a catalyst for change and continuous improvement both professionally and personally.

Being a leader is not necessarily dependent on position; rather, it is something that is earned over time and through varied experiences. Central to the idea of leadership is the notion of achieving a goal or desired outcome. To do that one must not only know, but also embrace and champion a cause.

As Airmen, our cause is captured in our mission statement, "to fly fight and win ... in air, space and cyberspace." As an Airman medic, my cause is "to enable medically fit forces, provide expeditionary medics, and improve the health of all we serve to meet our nation's needs."

Everything I do as a leader in the Air Force must be done with these in mind. However, though mission accomplishment is important, equally important to me is how I lead. It is an honor and privilege to be trusted as a leader of men and women, especially as a leader of Airmen in the United States Air Force. I am proud to serve as an Airman and do not take lightly the responsibility I have to lead America's sons and daughters.

The leadership landscape of today's Air Force presents numerous complex challenges and opportunities. Leaders must have a keen sense of self and be grounded in that awareness.

As a captain, I personally adopted the Air Force core values as my own. I strive to live my life based in integrity, where my words and actions reflect someone who is trustworthy, dependable and authentic. I seek a life of service and not to be served, where I can use my talents to positively impact the lives of anyone I come in contact with. Excellence is my attitude. It is not seeking to be first or an ultra-competitiveness, rather it is a deep desire to give my very best and not be satisfied with anything less.

Integrity, service, and excellence are foundational for me. Through these values, I align my thoughts and motives, and it is also the criteria by which I evaluate my actions. Members for whom I serve as leader should expect to be measured by these principles as well.

Beyond my core values, there are other leadership traits or qualities that I value. As a leader, it is my responsibility to establish goals in order to facilitate mission accomplishment. In order to do that, good communication skills are imperative. Not only must I set the tone by clearly communicating my intent and defining success, but also encourage healthy communication at all levels of the organization.

All forms of communication should be modeled and encouraged - listening, discerning, verbalization, writing, confirming etc. Communication must not be one-directional, but multi-directional and must at all times be respectful. This will foster an organizational climate which is inclusive, supportive, learns and grows stronger.

Another leadership trait that I value and model is consistency that leads to transparency, no matter who I'm dealing with. When it comes to leading a group of people, the question of fairness is always something that comes up. Fairness is a matter of perspective and depending on the person, the interpretation of fairness can, and will, vary.

As a leader I have responsibilities to the mission, the organization, the members of the organization collectively, and the individuals who make up the organization. Sometimes these responsibilities conflict, but through a disciplined, filtered decision making process, I will achieve fairness in the eyes of those I lead and develop a high level of trust and confidence.

The first filter of this process is the illegal, unethical, immoral filter. If the decision at hand is any of those, then it is an easier decision to make. The next filter is the "right thing to do" filter. If the answer to that question is yes, then difficulty should not be a determining factor in pursuit of the right thing to do. This filter considers the overall mission at hand, the organization collectively and then the individuals within the organization in that order. The goal is to try to strike a balance where and when possible between all of the variables. Over time and through application of this process, there should be a level of predictability and transparency in my leadership.

One of my mentors has this saying: "It's all about relationships or it is not about anything." He also says, "A day without laughter is a day wasted."

These two statements speak to me on a number of different levels. First and foremost, we are relational beings. In fact, research has proven that people with good relationships live longer and that laughter has many positive health benefits as well. What does this have to do with leadership? Everything.

The Air Force's greatest asset is it's people. As a leader, I must be available and accountable to the people I lead and facilitate an environment in which strong relationships are forged and fun is not a four letter word. Building strong relationships, both vertically and horizontally, will serve the mission and the people well.

This also includes nurturing and developing Airmen. Airman development includes assessing strengths and developmental needs. To do this, we must give timely and specific feedback; we must coach when necessary and provide challenging assignments and opportunities for growth and development.

We are Airmen 24/7. We are held to very high standards and must adhere to a high degree of personal responsibility and accountability. However, we must also find balance for ourselves and our families. It is important to nurture the whole being - physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental. This helps us to be the very best we can be.
There will be times when the mission will demand long hours or when we will be called away from our homes and families. When it does not, please do not ignore personal and family time.

My wife, Melissa, is good at reminding me of this. She has this saying, "there is always laundry," and with six kids, this is definitely true in the Love household. However, the saying has more than a literal meaning. More broadly, she reminds me that while my job is important, so is personal and family time. Sometimes the "laundry" can wait.

Discernment is necessary in the application of this principle, but I've learned that she's right and when I apply this principle, everything in my life just seems a whole lot better. So with that said, go forth and do great things.