Commentary: Airmen leading the Air Force

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Wesley Cure
  • Jeanne M. Holm Center for Officer Accessions & Citizen Development
Too often in today's Air Force, junior Airmen -- both junior officers and enlisted Airmen -- perceive themselves as followers rather than leaders because of their relative junior rank and experience.

Leading as a junior Airman is not always the easiest thing to do in the traditional sense, but it is vital to the success of our Air Force organizations. To understand how to lead as an Airman, you must first define leadership. As management expert Kenneth Blanchard said, "The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority."

So, we can ascertain that leadership is a measure of your actions, and not necessarily your position. Just because you are not the noncommissioned officer in charge of your section does not mean you cannot take on a leadership role. All you need to do to be a leader is influence those around you to support the best interests of the organization.

In order to influence or lead those around you, simply think about things you do each day. For instance, every day before you go to work, you get dressed. Though this routine activity may feel like a minor part of your position, it is an opportunity to be a leader. You can have a great influence on others by projecting a professional image.

If you present yourself as an unprofessional and unknowledgeable Airman, few are likely to take you seriously. First and foremost, abide by all dress and appearance standards. If your uniform is unkempt, people will formulate an ill opinion of you before you even speak. Little details that may seem trivial can actually differentiate an emerging Air Force leader from his or her peers.

After taking the time to care for your appearance, you go to work. This is perhaps the most obvious area where you can demonstrate leadership. Take the opportunity to influence others just by being knowledgeable about your job. Where possible, learn as much as possible about the technical and practical aspects of your career field.

Instead of asking your supervisor for answers to a question, take the time to research the answer yourself. Taking responsibility for your job demonstrates initiative and motivation. These are traits of a good leader.

Next, consider your day-to-day interactions with your co-workers. Establishing a rapport and sense of community with your fellow Airmen demonstrates one of the greatest traits of a leader: A team player. Staying late to help your co-worker with his/her work not only exemplifies your expertise in the subject matter, but it also exhibits your desire to see your team succeed. Opportunities for teamwork arise in various places including physical fitness workout facilities, study groups, during volunteer work and many others. Seizing these teamwork opportunities can influence others to emulate your actions and follow your example.

Finally, communication is, perhaps, the most critical aspect of being an effective leader. As you consider influential leaders in your life and of our nation, they are all articulate and well-spoken. As Airmen, we must strive to communicate in an effective manner. Taking the time to proofread your e-mails, rehearse your presentations and articulate your phone conversations can make a tremendous impact on how people perceive you and the mission you have to accomplish. This positive perception may also influence how others choose to communicate. You may be professional, knowledgeable, motivated and a great team player. But if you cannot effectively communicate with others, then you cannot be an effective leader.

Kenneth Blanchard's quote, "The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority," leads us to examine ways we, as Airmen, can be a positive influence on those around us. It begins by taking ownership of each day. Having the intrinsic motivation to be responsible not only in the workplace, but also in the community, will lead to the development of exceptional leadership traits. As Airmen, we must continuously strive for these new heights.