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Be a leader, regardless of rank

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Nicholas Sinnott
  • 375th Aerospace Medicine Squadron
As a senior master sergeant in today's Air Force, I've personally met many successful Airmen ranging from a young airman basic to a major general. I'm impressed with how the Air Force has profound trust in our youngest Airmen. For example, Senior Airman Timothy Burnett from the 375th Aerospace Medicine Squadron thrives as a bioenvironmental engineering technician.

He manages multiple wing-level programs ensuring the safety of 31,000 personnel. His dedication to the mission of his unit is made possible by his ability to be heavily involved in the community all while earning his Community College of the Air Force degree. Burnett and the thousands just like him are the standard in the Air Force today. Our military faces multiple challenges such as, budget cuts, terrorism, manning reductions, and environmental issues. This is why it's imperative that no matter what rank you currently hold, the Air Force has a need for all of us to be leaders. I will cover a few tips that can help make us better leaders, followers, Airmen.

So what characteristics do you look for in a leader? I asked this same question at our last squadron commander's all. My ears perked up when Airman 1st Class Brandon Herrera said, "Leaders need to be approachable." This is one of the characteristics that I value most in leaders. Leaders must be approachable, not intimidating.  An approachable leader fosters an environment of open communication up and down the chain of command. When personnel in a unit feel at ease, united, and are able to communicate freely without fear of retribution productivity goes up.  Approachable leaders listen more than they speak, allowing for every member to contribute ideas. 

As a young Airman, I learned a leader does not always have to resolve everything, but instead should guide others to communicate and develop solutions together. People will seek out these leaders with good and bad news. Always show compassion and empathy, let your team know they can always come to you regardless of your rank. If people trust you, they'll come to you. Being approachable and accessible are outstanding leadership qualities.

Be honest at all times. Or perhaps you have heard it as, "Integrity First!"  Integrity is a core value for all Airmen, and key to being a good leader.  To better understand this let's look at a lie. Lying causes stress and hardship on you and others. If you tell the truth 99.9 percent of the time, then lie just once and get caught, your credibility is lost. Imagine, your boss and co-workers can no longer believe or trust you; even when you are telling the truth, because you lied to them. Lying will always make a situation much worse. Don't turn a mistake into a crime by lying to cover it up. Admit mistakes, people will trust you more when you make a mistake and admit it. No matter what the setting, everyone wants to be fully confident in their leaders, and to be fully confident they have to believe that their leaders are people of strong character and solid integrity.

Be financially stable and live within your means. Leaders must be trusted; but how can you be trusted if you can't manage your own finances? Write down how much you make every two weeks. Below that number, write down how much you spend every two weeks. Subtract the bottom number from the top and if the answer is less than zero, you are not living within your means. It seems like a simple calculation, but it's a calculation that many people dread. Being financially responsible will not only help your credibility as a leader, but can save your career and security clearance.

Be a valuable team player. Knowing your role in the unit, wing, and mission is paramount to team dynamics in the work place. If you're in a position to make a decision, make it. Don't settle on just being average, but instead challenge yourself and others to be the best. Don't just maintain the programs you manage, but enhance them. Look for process improvement opportunities and slash unnecessary hours spent on redundant work. Lead from the rear, be a good follower first. Followership is the foundation to leadership. Followers influence and mold the leader's views.

Followership can be powerful and it is through the dynamic model of followership that leaders can fully realize their potential and the potential of the organization.

Develop your writing skills.  Everyone deserves a supervisor who knows how to write. Bullet statements are essential elements that will get our best people promoted and assigned to positions of greater technical and management responsibility. The local Air Force Sergeant's Association here sponsors an extensive two-day bullet writing workshop once a quarter. Find opportunities to fortify your writing skills and teach others. Do your subordinates a favor and learn how to capture what they do by writing "powerful" bullets. This is part of being a leader and taking care of your "hard-chargers."

These leadership characteristics are ones every Airman should consider and add to their personal leadership toolbox.  Remember; regardless of your rank or current position, you are a leader, a follower, an Airman!  Being a good follower is the foundation to being a good leader. Our nation is counting on all of us, to lead the way to the future. By striving to be honest, stable, approachable, and a true member of the USAF team there is no way we can falter.  Leadership through followership has proven to be an effective way to build professional combat ready forces throughout history, and we will continue in that tradition.