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Leadership is achieved at all levels

  • Published
  • By Maj. Kevin McMahon
  • 790th Missile Squadron commander
When I was presented the opportunity to write this article, a number of things immediately came to mind as potential topics. I could talk about core values. I could discuss my experiences here as a squadron commander. I could write about the ongoing war on terrorism. I could quote people who are a lot smarter than me -- and there is no shortage in that area.

Instead, I decided to share thoughts on a topic which relates to core values; the war on terror; and something which impacts all of us, from the newest airman basic to the most senior officer -- leadership. I hope what I've put on paper below not only covers those topics listed above, but maybe helps you reflect on your own personal leadership style.

Leadership is not restricted just for commanders, nor just for officers, but rather, we are all leaders. You all became leaders the moment you walked into the recruiter's office and signed the dotted line; no one forced you to do it. You led by example by walking through that door and others will follow. From that day forward, as military members you have opportunities to become good leaders as well as to become good followers.

I've already learned there is no "perfect leader" or a single leadership style; rather, there are several different types of leaders, both good and bad. Some choose to lead out of fear while some lead by gaining respect of their superiors, peers and subordinates.

There are several leadership qualities I have learned over the years, some before I entered the military, and some developed since becoming active duty. I would like to share just a few of those qualities I value in my leaders.

Professional competence in your primary duties, whether you are a first term airman or a senior officer: How well you know how to accomplish your mission is a direct reflection of your leadership skills and potential. It establishes trust with those you work for and with. You can be the most caring person in the world, but without competence, there is no trust that when the mission gets tough you will know what to do.

Loyalty: Not just to your squadron, group or wing, but loyalty to the oath you took to serve. Be loyal to all the men and women who serve alongside you in the profession of arms. Have loyalty to the mission and your willingness to do what it takes to ensure it is completed to the best of your abilities. Stay loyal to your family; both your blood family and your uniformed family.

Selflessness: Help those who need you and look for opportunities to reflect credit upon others.

Urgency and Decisiveness: People have to be empowered to act, to take risks to see that the mission is accomplished. You may someday find yourself as the highest ranking person around. There may not be time to ask someone above you if you should take action. You must make an educated decision, quickly, as your life, or the lives of those who follow you, may depend on it.

The war on terror has now gone on longer than when we were involved in World War II. And, it won't end anytime soon. It may change in the nature of how and where we are fighting, but the fact is the fight will go on. So long as there are terrorists who want to impose a culture of hatred and fear, leaders will be needed and called upon to step up, whether it is at F. E. Warren to step into a combat crew, flight, operations, squadron or commander role; NCO-in-charge role; filling two jobs at once; or abroad, we are all leaders impacting events and broader strategic outcomes.

Allow me to end with a few final thoughts. If you think you are a leader but no one is following, then you're only taking a walk. Leadership is a trait which is always undergoing refinement and gives meaning to what we do.

I encourage all of you to seek out a leader whose style you want to emulate; ask them questions, ask for their feedback as to how you can be a more effective and influential leader and be active in developing your style. Strive to be the leader you have always wanted to work for.

At the same time, have a vested interest in developing those who will one day be sitting in your seat when the Air Force no longer needs your service, as it is inevitably going to happen to all of us one day, no matter how awesome we are. Leaders can generate new ways of doing business, but leadership isn't just sitting around generating ideas all day.

Several of us have heard the motto "There is no 'I' in team." There is another similar saying, "There is no 'I' in shut up and do the work." If Steve Jobs hadn't turned his concepts into built goods, then the products [his company makes] we enjoy today wouldn't exist.

Leaders have to take action and turn ideas into realities or results. The most important question is not, "How do I become a great leader?" Rather, it is "How do I influence people to follow me, and what effort am I making to contribute to the mission and to better serve?"