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Leadership is not magical or mysterious

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- The recurring topic of my week was leadership. My Senior NCOs were having a professional development lunch on Friday to discuss what leadership is. Since my monthly luncheon with my Junior NCOs and airmen happened to fall in the same week, I thought I would capitalize on the topic of leadership and ask my NCOs their opinion on the matter.

I posed the question to my NCOs and airmen just as we were finishing up our meal, "What is leadership to you? What are the characteristics of a good leader?" I asked.

Almost immediately, one of my airmen began to describe a good leader as someone who sets the example and then holds troops accountable. The rest of the group echoed the same.

Then one NCO clarified that it is not just setting an example, it was more about setting a good example.

I thought: "Ok, good now we are putting some meat on this skeleton of what leadership is."

I asked the group if their performance would change or slack off if that leadership was not present all the time?

A couple of smirks crossed the group, then one NCO gave the party line, "no, our performance should not slack off."

"Why should it not slack off?" I asked.

Then the NCO went on to explain that as non-commissioned officers, they all know what is expected of them, and the core values compel them to do the right thing, even when no one is looking - meaning they hold themselves accountable.

So I reposed to the group that I understood them to say that leadership by example was important, and that setting a good example and holding people accountable is what they look for in a good leader. They all chimed in agreement.

Then I asked what about the piece of you holding yourselves accountable when you leadership isn't around? Doesn't that mean that the real essence of leadership is internal to each of us if we challenge ourselves and hold ourselves accountable even when no one is looking?

The whole group agreed that was sometimes the difficult part. I too agreed, but then added, "That is what makes it good leadership." We finished lunch and went back to work.

I circled back with my Senior NCOs later in the week to compare notes on their discussions and the one I'd had with the junior NCOs and airmen.

It turns out the two discussions were so similar; my chief thought I had borrowed his notes. As it turns out leadership is not magical or mysterious, and we all are familiar with the basics of leadership.

The tough part of leadership is executing it consistently and persistently, even when no one is looking or peer pressure is pulling you to stray from it. The good news is the more consistently you practice leadership and personal accountability, the easier it is to stick to it when the going gets tough.

So, I challenge each of you, as I challenge myself every day, whether you are an airman basic or a senior officer, to set the examples of good leadership and personal accountability on duty and of duty, in the company of others and even when you are alone.