Airman's perspective on good leadership

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- What makes a good leader? Most people affiliated with the military have their own perception of what a good leader is. Over time, I've learned that leadership is the key to any organization's success and have formed my own opinion on what it takes to be a good leader. 

I've read books and heard speakers discuss leadership and have followed some great leaders in my Air Force career. All have influenced my perspective on the subject. 

I distinctly recall one commander giving a phenomenal speech on leadership during a formal dinner. I was so impressed that I adopted his basic principles of a good leader for my own use. As I became more experienced, I realized that most of what he was saying was based on common leadership concepts, but his unique spin on the subject made it easy to remember and apply. 

The first principle is to know your job. Knowledge is a key aspect of a leader. It is the nucleus or center of a leader. Without knowledge, basic concepts of a profession would be confused and distorted, and would adversely affect the organization. Without knowledge, a leader would lose the trust and faith of followers and ultimately fail. Strong leadership starts with knowledge; have you heard the saying "knowledge is power?" You must strive to make yourself an expert at whatever you do. 

Besides learning your job, higher education is also a must. Effective leaders don't wake up successful. It is a continuous learning process. Knowing your job is the cornerstone to being a successful leader. 

The second principle is to do what is right. Effective leaders must set the example for others to follow. If leadership is corrupt and unfair, it will spread like a virus throughout the unit. Morale, good order, and discipline can take years to instill in a unit and can be destroyed in a minute with one unlawful or immoral act by the person in charge. 

Integrity is the mortar that binds all other aspects of leadership together. Integrity is doing what is right, morally, legally and ethically, even when nobody else is around. Without integrity, the unit would become corrupted and ultimately fail. When the fog and friction of war takes its toll on an army that has retreated and is out numbered, the sincere charge of an effective leader can motivate uncertain men to certain victory. 

Finally, the third principle is to always treat others the way you expect to be treated. Although the mission may be top priority, a leader must recognize that their people are the most important asset. This holds especially true in the military. Without people, the 31st Fighter Wing's F-16s would sit idle on the ramp. 

This principle goes far beyond being courteous and polite to others. Leaders must provide feedback both positive and negative to their peers and subordinates when needed, they must hold all accountable to the standard. Successful leaders also have the responsibility to recommend change in the system when improvements are warranted. Great leaders are always sensitive to the unit's morale, working condition, and supply needed to get the job done efficiently. 

I've come to realize what my commander long ago was saying - "everyone is a leader." In the Air Force, you start becoming a leader when you raise your right hand and take the oath to be an American Airman. What kind of leader are you?