Leadership: Accomplish the mission

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- An experienced veteran told me about a welcome he received stepping off a plane at his newly deployed location. As was customary, the deployed commander met arriving personnel. Expecting words of welcome and encouragement, the Airman was surprised by his new commander's first words. "I've given 14 Article 15's since I've been here. Don't be the next." Not exactly an inspirational leadership style.

I'm positive all the books and courses on leadership suggest a leader inspires, encourages and respects the people in their charge. I also know leaders must accomplish the mission. Mission accomplishment, in fact, is pass or fail for a leader. What then constitutes an effective leader? My take on this issue: Good leaders accomplish the mission; great leaders inspire others to execute their mission successfully. I believe in four fundamentals to establish effective leadership. First, establish yourself worthy. Second, set the environment. Third, provide vision and direction. Fourth, champion the efforts of your team. Worthiness is usually yours to lose. Realize quickly you are not special. The desired traits of a leader are no different than the desired traits of all Airmen. Integrity, courage, competence, honesty, self-discipline, etc. are expectations of everyone in the Air Force. They are not unique to leaders and don't necessarily determine capability. If any are missing or compromised, however, your effectiveness will be limited early. Expect your unit or team to possess these traits. Usually they do, so don't insult their professionalism. The character of the whole unit establishes the foundation.

The environment you set will last. If you create a team atmosphere, the team will support you until you give them cause to do otherwise. If you establish an aura of distrust, either through micro-management or threats of reprisal, you will be very busy and your team will provide you much less than they are capable. It is relatively easy to dictate or demand action to accomplish the mission, especially for a commander. Leaders who empower the members of the unit will accomplish the mission, create advocates and share ownership for the great things they accomplish. People who buy into the leader will accomplish so much more than just the mission.

The leaders who choose to establish the appropriate environment are free to provide vision and direction. If you chose the dictatorial route, forget about the rest because your team will be reactive for the remainder of your time as "leader." If a team buys into a leader, it will buy into a leader's vision. If you have made it this far, you possess some of the skills to be an effective leader. Provide vision and direction for what you could be; not what you are. Status quo does not inspire, and you want inspired teammates. Give ownership freely, and you will be amazed by your team's creativity. You may be good, but collectively your team is so much better than you. Let them soar. They want to and they deserve to.

Finally, recognize the great ideas and initiatives your team provides. Find a way to implement the hard work your team is doing and recognize it's impact. Champion does not mean cheering, so engage as necessary to create and affect change. This is perhaps the most important point. Your support will either eternalize trust or establish ambivalence. The future efforts of your team rest on your perceived desire to support their efforts. Be a proponent of their ideas and give them credit for their efforts.

Leaders have a unique opportunity to build and create. Set the stage early and the team will take care of you. Set it up poorly and your time as leader will be so much more difficult and much less rewarding. Good Luck.