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Aspire to be Great

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark., -- "A good leader inspires men to have confidence in the leader; a great leader inspires them to have confidence in themselves."
-Lao Tzu

The words of the sixth century philosopher, Lao Tzu have resonated with me over my career. Leadership....how to be a great leader is always a hot topic. I have come to the realization that being a great leader is more than focusing on the advancement of one's professional career. It is about making sure that others advance, as well.

Often we are find ourselves in leadership roles because of our rank. If you stay in the military long enough you will advance in rank if you comply with the AFIs, pass the PT test, and follow lawful orders. Does rank make someone a leader? Yes; one is a positional leader by rank and no, they are not leading if they are unable to inspire others to follow.

As Tzu states, "A great leader inspires..." When you think back over your career, who were those leaders who inspired you and why? At an assignment in Misawa, Japan, I met such a leader, one who was able to inspire others. This man had a bevy of professional and life experience that he brought to the job. He was a great listener and communicator. This is a very important tool to have because everyone wants to be heard. There will always be individuals who are eager to speak up and be heard, but a great leader must also give voice to those who are equally capable but less vocal. He gave those under his charge confidence by, at times, allowing their thoughts, ideas and experiences to carry equal weight in collectively getting the mission accomplished. In turn, they had trust and confidence in his ability because he was willing to listen.

"A great leader inspires..." you to be the best. Over your military career you will encounter different work environments. I have been in environments where mediocre is accepted as average and average as excellent. Unfortunately, when this type of environment exists, it is very resistant to change. Many of us have little problem with change but that only happens when the change affects someone else. The most common responses are, "That will never work..." or "We've tried that before ..." These comments come from individuals who have lost confidence in their leaders or their own leadership. This environment is most often birthed from individuals feeling that they have no say, and for this reason, they lack motivation. Tzu encourages the leader to not only inspire others but to inspire them to the point that they have confidence in themselves.

Being a great leader is all about making others great. That is the legacy of a great leader, and there are no shortcuts to this mandate. The legacy is replication. The replication of Airmen who listen, inspire, encourage, instill confidence, serve in integrity and lead are a legacy that will live on for generations.


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