LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. –
How many times have you heard someone say, "That senior Airman's not wearing his hat in the parking lot." Or "That tech sergeant just ran inside because reveille is about to sound."? I bet at some point, a comment was made similar to, "I wonder who his supervisor is?" Or maybe, "Master Sgt. Smith is his boss. I'll let him know what I saw."
There is an attitude prevalent in the profession of arms that we're only responsible for the Airmen whose performance reports we write. As we earn more and more stripes on our sleeves, or have those gold or silver leaves pinned onto our uniforms, some think that gives us more privileges.
Well, in some ways, that's true. But what we need to keep in mind as we move up through the ranks is the idea that our sphere of influence grows along with the chevrons on our sleeves. Our responsibilities really do grow exponentially with each promotion.
What we need is an attitude shift. We need our leaders to adopt the attitude of the servant leader. A servant leader is one who, according to Robert K. Greenleaf, is one who has a "natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first." Greenleaf continues to say that the person who becomes a servant first "makes sure that other people's highest priority needs are being served."
Additionally, the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership has identified 10 characteristics of a successful servant leader. Those are:
Listening - Servant leaders need to develop the capability to effectively listen to their people, especially to their nonverbal communication. By employing effective listening techniques, we can be more in tune to what our people are going through or need to get the job done.
Empathy - This doesn't mean pity. It means we must strive to understand the perspective our people are coming from. This will help us to better understand them, and will also provide for more effective motivation methods.
Healing - Obviously, this doesn't mean healing in the medical sense. It means being well versed in conflict management techniques, and encouraging and supporting the personal development of each and every person under our charge.
Awareness - The servant leader must have a firm grasp on the overall mission of the organization, so that efforts can be more integrated into what the goals of the unit are.
Persuasion - We should not be using our power to coerce those under us to do their jobs. We will be more effective by striving to teach our people the importance of their jobs, and to teach them how their job fits into the bigger picture of the organization.
Conceptualization - Servant leaders need to be able to think beyond the task at hand. We need to be in tune with the vision of our commanding officers and be able to translate that vision into executable tasks. It is imperative that we have the vision to see how a particular task relates to winning the war, launching the plane, or providing the best force support possible.
Foresight - An effective servant leader is able to look ahead and see the results of work being done. This needs to be done to facilitate potential improvements in processes, and more importantly, to visualize potential risks that can be avoided.
Stewardship - We are the stewards of our people. The parents of our youngest Airmen have entrusted their lives to us. Imagine giving your child over to someone, blindly trusting that they will look out for your child's best interests. We need to care for our people as if they were our own children. Yet this, by any stretch of the imagination, does not mean we treat them like children.
Commitment to the Growth of People - People are more valuable than just the work they do for us in the Air Force. They have personal, spiritual, and professional value. We need to make it our priority to do everything we can in recognize that value, cultivate, and grow it. They will be better people for it, and will work harder for you.
I challenge the notion that the only Airmen who are yours are the Airmen who work directly for you. Every time you meet someone, you have an opportunity to mentor, guide and advise. You WILL have an impact on the people you come in contact with.
That impact will either be a positive or negative one, and it is our duty as leaders to ensure we have a positive impact on as many people as possible. Senior NCOs know that we are charged with giving guidance to our commanders based on our judgment, experience and training.
What we tend to forget, however, is that the judgment, experience and training we've acquired through years (sometimes decades) wearing the uniform of an Airman is just as important to the Airmen underneath us as it is to our commanders. By employing some of the techniques of servant leadership, we can all be more effective leaders, and can make the Air Force an even better place than it is now.
I'll conclude this article with a short piece of advice. Treat EVERYONE you come across as if they WERE one of the Airmen whose performance report you write. I promise they'll be happier Airmen, they'll do a better job, and you'll also be a better NCO, senior NCO or officer for it!