An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Home : News : Commentaries : Display
NEWS | Nov. 3, 2006

Lead by teaching leadership

By Senior Master Sgt. John Evalle 1st Civil Engineer Squadron

The best idea I ever heard was, "Teach leadership to become a better leader." Many people have heard if you really want to learn something, teach it. This makes perfect sense to me, but does it apply to becoming a better leader? What specifically would you teach someone to help them become a leader? And furthermore, where does someone find a group of "students" willing to learn the art of leadership? While seeking answers to these questions, I came to a very clear solution that everyone can use. 

In Zig Ziglar's book, "See You At The Top," a simple exercise illustrates that when you ask several people to individually list the qualities of a successful leader, the lists will be remarkably similar. These typical or universal qualities of a leader usually include a person who is trustworthy, energetic, caring, motivated, honest, approachable, a good listener, a visionary and someone who has a positive attitude. The list continues with all the same qualities you could easily generate yourself if you were asked to accomplish the same task. 

Using this list as a foundation, let's begin with the idea that each of these traits of a leader can be classified as a skill or a habit that can be learned and practiced.  Therefore, these learnable traits then become the foundation for teaching our theoretical leadership course. With the lesson defined, now we must consider how to organize an audience to be our leadership students. 

Of course, every noncommissioned officer cannot be a professional military education instructor, and there are limited opportunities for individuals to conduct formal training. So, let's focus on how most of us teach on a daily basis: by our actions. 

As children, we learned by watching our parents and repeating their actions as our own. There wasn't a classroom for the education we received from our parents; and this is the same for your opportunity to teach leadership. Your leadership classroom is everywhere you go, and you're teaching leadership to everyone around you by emulating qualities of a successful leader. I have often told young Airmen, "Force people to judge you by your actions." I truly believe this also holds true for your role as a leader and teacher of leadership. 

Leading by example is synonymous with teaching by example. Teaching leadership to your subordinates is more about what you do rather than what you say. To be a teacher of leadership, you must develop trust by keeping your word and by being open and honest with those around you. You must come to work with energy and excitement about doing your job well. Get to know your troops and learn what motivates them, so they know you care about their personal development. Ensure your subordinates are comfortable approaching you with issues and listen to them with sincerity. As a leader with vision, don't let yourself lose sight of the big picture by slipping into the daily grind of the inbox. And most importantly, you must have a leader's positive attitude. 

Think about how a positive attitude impacts your team. If you had a chance to pick your team from a group of people you knew very well, who would you choose? Would you select the negative individuals who spend more time complaining than working, and who are known for being stubborn? Or would you choose the people who tend to be positive and mentally prepared to succeed when the forecast is a difficult challenge.  Would you select the optimistic people known for pulling the team together, supporting a leader's tough decisions, and looking at a change as a possibility of a better way Once you have decided who you would choose, then ask yourself, "Which category are you in?" Remember that you're being looked at every day for consideration to be selected for someone's team. As a teacher of leadership, you must be focused on success and the unity of the team's movement towards achievement. 

If you want to improve as a leader, teach leadership by leading. Learning the qualities of a successful leader and doing your best to embrace them as your own is how you teach leadership to those around you. In Mark Sanborn's new book, "You Don't Need A Title To Be A Leader," the author emphasizes that leaders are found at every level of every organization. This is true in the Air Force, and our focus on developing leaders is vital to the mission and more importantly, to the Air Force's future. Therefore, I challenge everyone to "teach leadership by being leaders through their actions and attitude. This will ensure you are growing as a leader as well as preparing the next generation of Air Force leaders to meet future challenges.