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Leadership: how hard can it be?

Charles Webb III, 47th Maintenance Directorate director, asks if leaders born or if they are taught, and he believes there are expert opinions supporting both ideas. He says just because one’s mom or dad made it to the rank of general doesn’t mean they’ve got the natural leadership ability to make a good general, but he points out the Air Force feels strongly that leaders can be created. (U.S. Air Force photo by 47th Public Affairs)


Are leaders born or are they taught? There are expert opinions supporting both sides.

Look at the football-playing Manning family. Peyton and Eli, the sons of famous New Orleans Saints quarterback Archie Manning, make you think maybe there’s something to being born with all the talent you need. They made it look pretty easy…if you don’t count Eli’s past season.

Then there’s Chris Simms, the son of New York Giants quarterback and Super Bowl MVP, Phil Simms. All of us Texas Longhorn fans went through four college football seasons of Chris Simms at quarterback with no championship of any kind. More importantly, he never beat Oklahoma! He struggled through several years in the NFL on multiple teams and now does some color commentary.

Maybe there’s more to it than just being born with a natural talent.

The same can be said about leadership. Just because your mom or dad made it to the rank of general doesn’t mean you’ve got the natural leadership ability to make a good general. 

The Air Force feels strongly that leaders are taught. We invest significant time and money to make our Airman better leaders. It works…but it’s not easy.

Becoming a better leader, like becoming skilled at anything, takes tremendous effort.

Here are three concepts that can make you a better leader at work come Monday…


1.  Make Improvement a Priority. Here’s a riddle for you. Three frogs are sitting on a log, one decides to jump off, how many frogs are on the log? The answer is three…just because you “decide” to do something, doesn’t mean you actually did anything.

It takes more than just “deciding” to be a better leader. You’ve got to study, practice, talk, listen and execute to become a better leader.

When you’re tired of watching the same thing over and over on Sports Center this weekend, take a look at Air Force Instruction 1-2, Commander’s Responsibilities. Six pages of instructions specifically for commanders, but the instruction states the principles and methods should be used for leaders at all levels. Take a look. Start becoming a better Air Force leader right now.


2.  Think Ahead…Plan Ahead…Be Ahead. The leader is not just physically out in front, but must be mentally out in front as well. Don’t think of this simply as planning for events years from now. This is all about staying ahead of your workforce. Knowing the plan for next month, next week, tomorrow, or even just the next job will make you a better leader.

Never be caught not knowing what your next step will be. Staying ahead requires knowing the bigger picture of your organization, your wing and your Air Force. 

Your people can only have as big a picture as the one you provide them. The Early Bird Brief at defensenews.com is where many senior leaders begin their day.

Another option is the Laughlin News Update sent out by Public Affairs each Wednesday.

Start getting a better perspective of the world around you to be a better leader.  


3.  Point Out the Positive. Practically every unit climate assessment survey highlights a deficiency in recognizing our most deserving people. Most times, it’s easier to see what’s wrong rather than what’s right. The consensus is not everyone needs a certificate handed to them by the commander, just someone showing a genuine appreciation for the work they’ve done. That’s what good leaders do. Leading a pep rally may not be your style and may only motivate a small percentage of people, but doing nothing drops that percentage to zero. Find your way to encourage your folks...and start today.


How hard can leadership be? Try applying these relatively simple concepts and you’ll find out—it’s hard. Being a good leader is still the toughest, most rewarding challenge the Air Force has to offer.