Living up to the tenets of leadership

  • Published
  • By Col. William R. Buhler
  • 55th Dental Squadron
Each of us must choose the qualities we will emulate from the leaders who have contributed to our own development. From those who have guided me personally, as well as from those who have reached from the pages of history with their influence, I have formulated my own tenets of leadership. They are: selflessness, honesty, courage, and humility.

These tenets have had a timeless effect on those who have applied them to their lives. When tried by circumstances that require hard decisions or life-altering challenges, a solid foundation anchored to these tenets will validate an individual's leadership ability.
Selflessness, honesty, courage and humility.
On a September morning in 1776, a young lieutenant in the newly formed Continental Army had just such an opportunity. He volunteered to cross enemy lines in order to gather intelligence on the British army occupying New York. Disguising himself as a teacher, he slipped through the British army, making sketches and notes of British fortifications and positions. 

He was caught and brought before Sir William Howe, the British commander, where he was interrogated and condemned to die without so much as a trial. Even his requests for a clergyman and a bible were denied. After a long night, he was escorted to the gallows and allowed to speak his last words. 

It was then that 21-year-old Nathan Hale defined "service before self" and thus put a mark on the course of history. His calm and dignified words, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country," helped inspire the young American nation to rise up against the British army. 

Those words echo through history today, reminding us that there are those who have sacrificed before us, and who continue to fight today against our enemies. We must honor deployed Air Force members by committing to selfless service every hour of each day, as we support those who are leading the fight. 

Honesty and integrity must be woven into the fabric of an individual's character. They must be the center of an individual's actions. The true test of integrity comes when a person is alone with their own thoughts and deeds. At that point, only they are witness to their choices. 

Honesty has the potential to be evaluated each day. This measurement comes in many forms: whether you report for duty on time, how hard you work, or how truthful you are with your peers and leaders. Although your honesty will be judged by your peers, it is integrity that forms the perception of yourself and thus lays the foundation of character that defines you. 

Courage is often misunderstood for bravery. It is not the absence of fear; rather it is reflected in the choices made in the face of adversity. There is always a decision: to hide safely in a secure location, or to push forward in the face of certain danger to stand on principles. 

Remember a small church in Richmond, Virginia, 1775, crowded not with veteran soldiers, but with untested young Americans. A room filled with uncertainty and fear. To even be present in the room placed a price on your head. The decision facing them was simple-to stand for liberty and freedom by confronting the most powerful nation then on earth, or to be subjugated and submissive, under the pretense of safety by remaining a British colony. 

After several days of listening to the gathered Congress timidly "wish not," for a "diminution" of royal authority and maintain a connection with Great Britain, Patrick Henry rose from his chair to address the Congress:

"...I shall speak my sentiments freely and without reserve. This is no time for ceremony. The questing before this house is one of awful moment to this is nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery...If we wish to be preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending...we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight!... 

"...They tell us sir, that we are weak, unable to cope with so formidable an adversary....Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. The millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us.... 

"...The battle is not to the strong alone, it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave....Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"

What followed was stunned silence. Then, cries of "To arms! To arms!" His remarkable display of courage would unite the Congress and rally a nation to an ideal, pulling people out of the safe and sheltering arms of cowardice.
From a military perspective, courage is often associated with valor on the battlefield; however, every day presents an occasion to stand up for what is right, to fight for those who are oppressed, and to crush wrongs that must be righted, despite of the cost. 

Today, we find ourselves engaged in a global struggle against the tyranny of terrorism. What course, then, shall we pursue? What will history say of us if we are not courageous? Courageous leaders must always be willing to make the right choice, even if the sacrifice seems too great, and career ambitions or personal desires hang in the balance. 

Two of America's most successful World War II generals, George S. Patton and Omar N. Bradley, had very different leadership styles with regard to the tenant of humility. In a private memorandum, General Eisenhower described Patton as: 

"...a shrewd soldier who believes in showmanship to such an extent that he is almost flamboyant. He talks too much and too quickly and sometimes creates a very bad impression. Moreover, I fear that he is not always a good example to subordinates, who may be guided by only his surface actions without understanding the deep sense of duty, courage and service that make up his real personality." 

General Bradley's leadership style stood in stark contrast. Widely described as the "soldiers' general," he was self-effacing and humble, showing a concern for the men he led. Because of this, General Eisenhower considered him an indispensable leader. General Bradley later went on to become the Chief of Staff of the Army and the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

Today, Air Force leaders should be ever mindful of the men and women who accomplish the daily mission. Humble leaders allow others to be recognized for the work they have done. They don't become arrogant with their own success or promote themselves at the expense of subordinates or peers. True leaders always do more then the expected, and give credit to the individuals who are most deserving of recognition. 

It is my contention that successful leadership is intimately connected to the character of the individual chosen to lead. If character is not built on principles of integrity, the ability to lead will be suspect and challenged by those who depend on strong leadership. These tenets of selflessness, honesty, courage, and humility are derived from individuals I have known or past patriots who have excelled in the face of momentous events. 

Leaders are not born, but are forged from everyday men and women; individuals who, when faced with difficulty or challenges, rise to the occasion. Some may shape history if the circumstances provide the opportunity. 

While most of us may not have that honor, we are privileged to lead through daily dedication and adherence to our core values. 

If we stay true to timeless leadership principles, we will continue to lead the Air Force toward a bright future.