F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE – General Dwight D. Eisenhower once said that leadership is the ability to get someone to do something you want done because they want to do it.
The quote is one that I wasn’t aware of until I saw it etched into the first going away gift I ever received. I spent the first 3 years of my career at Hurlburt Field, Florida, working as the Logistics Officer for the 1st Special Operations Security Forces Squadron and getting ready to permanently change stations when I received it. In that time, I had maybe only spent 1.5 years on station between technical school and deployments and was focused on the next step in my career. At the time, I thought the Air Force Special Operations Command dagger encased inside was the cooler part. However, the quote resonated with me, too. I just hadn’t placed why yet.
Ever since I was young, I knew that I wanted to be in the military. I remember my dad, who was an NCO in the Texas Army National Guard and retired a master sergeant, when he would come back from drill weekends or field exercises and how cool I thought he was. Whenever I was around him and his close circle of friends who were all Korea, Vietnam and Gulf War veterans, I would just sit quietly and listen. They were all Senior Non-Commissioned Officers and warrant officers who were combat proven. I was amazed that they let me hang out with them. They and my dad were my first SNCO mentors and believe me, I got mentored a LOT. But, there were always recurring themes: 1. Take care of those that work for you and they will take care of you. 2. Find a good SNCO and learn from them. 3. Listen to your troops. These were just a few, but they were never meant in a mean or directive way. It was always constructive and guiding.
In addition to the mentorship, my dad would also tell me about our family history and how intertwined the military was in it. My favorite is still the story of my grandparents during World War II. Grandpa Luber was a captain and commander of a light engineering equipment company. Grandma Luber was a lieutenant in the Army Corps of Nurses, and they had met prior to crossing the Atlantic. As luck would have it, they both ended up coming ashore on Omaha Beach after the D-Day invasion and their units progressed close to each other as the Allies advanced across Europe. In January of 1945, they were wed in St. Johns Church in Maastricht, Holland (I was lucky enough to visit there with my family a few years ago). Grandpa was in his Class A’s and grandma was in a dress woven from the silk of a parachute. This and other stories always made them seem larger than life to me and drove my fascination with the military more.
One of the other things that I have about my grandfather is a letter from one of his troops after he passed away describing the character he had during the war. In every story, the theme I noticed was the fact that he cared for his men, even if he knew it would put him in harm’s way. It wasn’t until a few years ago when I revisited these letters that I finally understood the meaning of the Eisenhower quote. If you take care of those who work for you, they will not only take care of you in kind but, they will excel at anything in their way.
This led me to look at my leadership philosophy in a different way and I thought it would be fitting to use this quote as the core of it. The groundwork had already been laid. First, by the mentorship I had received growing up and second, by the experiences of those that came before me. I had just never formed it into a philosophy. I then asked myself, “How can I break down what this quote means to me and make it simple, explainable, understandable and actionable?” So, after a while I was able to break up what I was thinking into three tenets:
People First, Mission Always: If I can ensure that I am able to take care of my Airmen, they will take care of the mission.
Never Suffer in Silence: If you are struggling, speak up early so you can get the help you need. This can apply to a myriad of things but the example I use most often is, “It is easier to help you with $1,000 of debt vs. $10,000.”
Constantly Strive to Improve Yourself: We all will take this uniform off at some point. Having a long term goal for after the military will give you something to work towards. An added bonus is that it will positively affect your internal drive while still in service. Short term goals are not excluded from this tenet either. Whether that is simply to read more, or work on getting your run time down, any positive step towards self-improvement makes you better and benefits your unit as well.
To me, by promoting these things, I am able to affect positive change in my unit. While they are aimed primarily at the short term drive of the unit to excel, if it resonates with even one Airman to better themselves by achieving their long term goals after the military, I’ve succeeded. The ultimate goal for me is to help mold productive members of society.