Levels of Leadership

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Brian A. Barthel
  • 55th Security Forces Squadron commander
Throughout my career I have sat through many classes on leadership, but the one lesson that really stuck in my head stems from an old "brown shoe" Vietnam veteran commander I worked for. He said, "Lt., your leadership philosophy should be clearly understood, easy to remember and, most importantly, realistic to live by."

I think the following, which has morphed over the years, meets those objectives.

Junior enlisted members in non-supervisory positions should know their job and take care of themselves. What do I mean by this? Simply learn as much as you can about your job, ask questions, read all applicable guidance and operating instructions so you can execute your assigned mission, and avidly pursue your upgrade training.

As for taking care of yourself, you know yourself better than anyone else and as a professional you have an obligation to take care of yourself and ask for help when needed. You should maintain a healthy lifestyle, worship as you see fit, properly manage your finances, take care of your family, and so on. Along with this, let your supervisor or leadership know when you're having a problem and need help. Get help early while the issues are easier to manage. Life by the inch is a cinch, life by the yard is hard.

Noncommissioned officers in supervisory positions should still follow the first two rules, but at a higher level. Obviously, you should know more about our profession of arms and be leading by example.

You should also be actively completing your upgrade training and pursuing an advanced degree. The added measure for the NCO corps is to take care of your Airmen. Not only do you have to lead by example, you need to take a vested interest in your Airmen's lives, both professional and personal. You should know the status of their training, who their friends and family are, what their interests are, and any problems they are confronting.

For senior noncommissioned officers, officers and senior civilians, the additional measure you need to uphold is to take care of your boss. Not just your immediate supervisor but the big picture: the 55th Wing commander, Air Combat commander and all the way to our commander-in-chief.

We are leaders 24/7 and must act like it. You won't always agree with your boss' decisions as your subordinates won't always agree with yours, but in the end as leaders we must support the decisions of our leaders. We must all follow the orders of those appointed over us and convey them as our own, so long as those orders are not illegal, unethical or immoral.

While this leadership philosophy is no revelation, it is clearly understood at all levels of leadership, easy to remember, realistic to implement, and has proven to be effective over my career.