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Exceptional Leader Spotlight: The mirror of leadership

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Tyler McConnell, explosive ordnance team member from the 31 Civil Engineer Squadron, poses for a photo, Dec.18, 2019, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. Explosive ordnance team member are trained to detect, disarm, detonate and dispose of explosive threats all over the world, EODs are the specialists who bravely serve as the Air Force’s bomb squad. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ericka A. Woolever).

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Tyler McConnell, explosive ordnance team member from the 31 Civil Engineer Squadron, poses for a photo, Dec.18, 2019, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. Explosive ordnance team member are trained to detect, disarm, detonate and dispose of explosive threats all over the world, EODs are the specialists who bravely serve as the Air Force’s bomb squad. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ericka A. Woolever).

U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Jeffrey Vicars, superintendent of the 31st Dental Squadron, poses for a photo, Dec.18, 2019, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. The 31st Dental Squadron integrates community-based preventive dental services and utilizes all dental resources to enable peak mission readiness and sustained performance. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ericka A. Woolever).

U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Jeffrey Vicars, superintendent of the 31st Dental Squadron, poses for a photo, Dec.18, 2019, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. The 31st Dental Squadron integrates community-based preventive dental services and utilizes all dental resources to enable peak mission readiness and sustained performance. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ericka A. Woolever).

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy --

Looking through the rear-view mirror offers a good glance back for one to determine how far they have come, but one must always look at the present reflection to prepare for the roads ahead. 

Leadership involves both past and present experiences and the ability to learn.

“Leadership is a very dynamic word that means so much to me,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jeffrey Vicars, superintendent of the 31st Dental Squadron, Aviano Air Base. “A simple definition is someone in charge of a group, focused on achieving a common goal. But, I truly feel real leadership is much deeper than that. Even if you’re born with leadership abilities, it still takes time to learn, and in most cases, cannot be perfected.”

Going through experiences knowing that mistakes will happen is a key concept in becoming an exceptional leader.

“I show up to work prepared to learn and help in any way needed,” said Airman 1st class Tyler McConnell, explosive ordnance team member from the 31 Civil Engineer Squadron. “I accept my failures and take away all learning points from that to apply in my development.”

When many people reflect on themselves, they often think of specific individuals who have helped mold them into the people they are today. 

“I’ve had leaders make unforgettable impacts for the good and bad,” said Vicars. “I’ve always tried to take some type of leadership attribute from those who have led me. My plan has always been to do my best to emulate those attributes that I’ve liked and not repeat those that I didn’t.”

The best references are those individuals who have made a memorable and positive impact.

“Captain Reasoner was my officer in charge in my prelim course,” said McConnell. “He always put the class first and looked for ways to make our life easier. As well as making sure everyone was fully prepared for both physical training and classroom material.”

One of the ways that leaders can establish a positive impact is by making an effort to build a connection.

 “In my opinion, nothing beats getting up from behind our desks and talking to our Airmen face to face,” said Vicars. “We have so many options and methods available for us to connect. But, as a leader, I enjoy getting to know my Airmen and having sit down conversations.”

Those one-on-one conversations give Airmen a chance to share their perspective while learning the mission from an experienced leader.

“Leaders need to be able to see the point of view of the Airmen,” said McConnell. “The Airman doesn’t have as much experience and may not understand the overall mission or why something is important.”

Although junior enlisted Airmen may not have the most experience, they continuously impact their unit, the wing, and the Air Force.

“Some of the greatest lessons in leadership I’ve learned have been through our Airmen,” said Vicars. “They are truly inspiring to me, and it is an honor to watch some of our young leaders in the wing step up to the plate with some of the challenges we face every day and hit a home run.”

No matter the mirror one is looking into, leadership starts with a true understanding of who you were, who you are and who you want to be.

“Seek first to understand, and then be understood,” said Vicars.