Leadership is certainly an age old topic that continues to be a source of great debate, even for its very definition on how leadership is even defined. Pick your favorite leadership book of choice or inquire with those in your leadership chain, and you’re bound to gain a different perspective from each source.
Defining leadership is subjective, and varies widely from person to person. From my vantage, leadership is simply defined taking a vision and making it a reality. This definition is broad and covers the gamut, but is simple and easy for me to remember.
It doesn’t make my version right or wrong, rather an opinion formed which is based on my experiences. The point being, even the very definition is difficult to define separate from the more complex topic of what traits and attributes make a good leader.
Perhaps the more important question is what separates good from great in context to leadership. A very difficult question to put your finger on is what makes someone exceptional in this department. I’ll get to that in a moment, but first, within our profession of arms, we place a high value on the ability to effectively lead.
As a service and perhaps more than any other department, we spend considerable time, energy and resources developing leaders through formal education. Why? Because it matters! It matters greatly on our ability to effectively accomplish our missions and how we take care of our Airmen and Families to include how we develop the next generation of leaders.
For those fortunate enough to attend formal professional military education, or take the time to develop themselves through reading, mentoring, etc., these experiences provide valuable insight, tips and/or techniques to build solid leadership skills (a key first step!).
Moreover, it’s equally important to distill and evaluate this information on what works best for you and your leadership style. It’s certainly not a one size fits all approach, and therein lies the challenge for the individual members to tailor and suit over time to effectively develop their approach to leadership.
I do want to leave you with more concrete thoughts on what differentiates good from great leaders, from my perspective, are traits (certainly not all inclusive) that are more universal unlike the aforementioned. I’d offer to you, having been fortunate enough to observe a host of leaders over the course of my time in service, that there have been a ‘handful’ of truly exceptional leaders who exhibited similar traits.
Yes, they were certainly all highly competent leaders, who led with integrity and fairness, who developed their personnel and moved their organization forward to excellence, but what made these leaders stand out? Why were they widely respected and well thought of? What made them exceptional?
A noted author, A.J. McClane, helps capture an important sentiment, “…all good things come through grace, grace through art…art is not easy.” That’s an interesting thought for sure, the art of leadership is tough and it’s certainly not easy. However, I believe the thought process here has merit, that those leaders who exhibit grace and humility have grasped two very key prerequisites that separate them as truly exceptional leaders who’ve grasped the art of leadership.
Though I’ve been fortunate to attend a number of PME programs, this angle on leadership was never discussed or read. I’m sure I missed the lesson, but what I’ve shared with you is based solely on my observations which grounds this commentary as simply a perspective. I’d also offer that our service as a whole would benefit if more leaders considered these traits as part of their leadership approach…food for thought.
For those of you who have read to this point, I’d encourage you, as you observe and evaluate leaders as part of your continuing effort to develop your own leadership capabilities (e.g. I won’t do it that way when I’m in charge or that’s a good approach etc.), that you’d consider and see if those that you admire and place into a category of exceptional leaders exhibit some of these very same traits. I wish you well, and hope you and yours have a blessed year.