The 3 'Cs' of leadership

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Christopher Menuey
  • 90th Operations Support Squadron commander
The word leadership is used often, especially in the military, but what does it mean? I like how leadership author, John C. Maxwell, defines it. Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less. I like this definition because it has nothing to do with a title, position or job. Everyone has the potential and responsibility to influence others and be a leader. A title may give someone authority but not influence. Influence must be earned. The question is how do you earn influence and the right to lead? The ability to lead and influence others comes from one's character, ability to connect and credibility.

Character is the first and most important quality to being a good leader. Having character boils down to being honest, respectful and professional with others and in all actions. "Integrity First" is the first Air Force core value because it is the most important. President Dwight D. Eisenhower stated that "if a man's associates find him guilty of phoniness, if they find that he lacks forthright integrity, he will fail. His teachings and actions must square with each other." I think we can all identify a leader that felt phony and came across like a used car salesman somewhere in our careers. Ultimately, an individual must be honest and forthright when dealing with others to build trust and confidence. You will not be able to speak into someone else's life if they don't trust you. But in order to speak into someone's life you must be able to connect with them.

Connecting is the second important quality to being a good leader. Connecting with others is about being a servant leader. This idea is also captured in the Air Force's second core value, "Service Before Self." The best leaders desire to serve others, not themselves. Medal of Honor recipient Admiral James B. Stockdale summed it up by writing, "Leadership must be based on goodwill. Goodwill does not mean posturing and, least of all, pandering to the mob. It means obvious and wholehearted commitment to helping followers," but, to serve others in this fashion, you must connect with them by showing you truly care about them and are interested in them as individuals; get to know them and help them belong; and finally, find out their needs and meet those needs with excellence.

Credibility is the third important quality to being a good leader. Credibility involves knowing your job and getting results. This quality matches the third Air Force core value of "Excellence in All We Do." The more an individual masters their job knowledge, accomplishes each task with excellence and attention to detail, the more credibility and opportunity for influence they will have with others. A good way of looking at credibility comes from Vince Lombardi who said, "They call it coaching but it is teaching. You do not just tell them...you show them the reasons."

Everyone can earn influence and the right to lead others. However, the level of influence and leadership relies on character, ability to connect and credibility. Throughout my career I have seen leaders who excelled in all three of these qualities with phenomenal results on units and individuals. Like the great leadership examples you can think of, they were men and women who helped people to live better lives and maximized their unit's and individuals' potential. That is the highest calling of leadership -- and its highest value.