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Leadership: Influence those around you

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Leadership is a subject addressed in a myriad of venues by professionals at all levels. However, the discussions can be boiled down to a simple and concise phrase: the ability to influence.

How can we tell if we are effective? Although the possible answers to this question are endless, I'll offer a few simple suggestions here.

Eliminate the "that's impossible" mindset. An attitude that plagues us is the inability to see success in a task that at first may appear overwhelming. Instead of preparing ourselves, exerting the necessary energy and seeing it through, we simply prevent the possibility of failure by avoiding challenging tasks. Have you heard? No one can complete it in that amount of time. I couldn't possibly get selected for that position. Your standards are too high.

Where would we be today if George Washington saw the frozen Delaware as an impossible fete? What if Martin Luther King Jr., saw equality as an impossible dream? What if Orville and Wilbur Wright saw gravity as impossible to overcome? Would we be free? Would we have aerial flight? Leaders can eliminate the "im" from impossible by providing the necessary training, being supportive and rewarding superior performance while correcting substandard performance and behavior.

Eliminate the "We-tried-that-before-and-it-didn't-work" attitude. This attitude clouds our thought processes and forms a barrier that prevents us from rising above previous failures. Admit the last time resulted in failure, but understand that this time everything will change. New people bring new skills, motivation, determination and possibly that one ingredient needed to turn last year's failure into this year's success. Leaders can overcome this tendency by listening and providing a vector and focus to those around them instead of stifling their initiative and creativity.

Change the "I'm-just-an-Airman-and-I-don't-matter" mindset. This mindset has been around for some time and makes an appearance when excuses are needed for a task gone wrong. Or, it arrives after you have closed all communication channels and eliminated the possibility of valuable input from those of lesser rank.

Every man and woman is somebody. They bring with them different experiences and skills that makes the team better. A leader must understand that each team has superstars and role players. But never forget that the role players are those who do the dirty work and allow the superstars to shine. Value the contributions of each member, regardless of how insignificant they may seem.

Take ownership. The colonel said, the chief told, the boss directed, these are statements used to communicate orders without taking ownership. This behavior communicates to followers that you do not fully support the direction you are giving and may infer your reluctance to enforce policy.

This cultivates an environment where discipline problems arise. Give every order as if it were your own, because it is. Implement every rule like you created it, because you did. Approach every task as if your life depends on it, because it does. Using this approach will lead others to emulate it. When they do, success of the team will become their goal. And if the team succeeds, so does each member.

There is no better day to begin exercising your influence than today ... our future depends on it!