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Leadership lessons linger

  • Published
  • By Capt. Kristen D. Duncan
  • 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Chief of Public Affairs
It doesn't take much to find leadership in a deployed setting, whether on the battlefield, in a maintenance back shop, or among the seasoned SNCO's and officers of our Wing. I stumbled upon a meeting of the minds however, true leaders studying to become better. Better officers, better Airmen - all thanks to lessons from former President Abraham Lincoln.

The 451st Expeditionary Maintenance Group officers met Saturday, non-alcoholic beer and cigars included, to discuss the humble genius in honest ol' Abe. Led by one of the youngest ranking in the group, 1st Lt. Christopher Anderson, HH-60 HMU officer in charge, kept the briefing to only four main slides, to foster discussion and discourse.

Summarizing Donald Phillips' book, "Lincoln on Leadership," Lieutenant Anderson and the group discussed four main areas: people, character, the endeavor and communication. This is what I learned.

Build strong alliances within your organization and network externally. Know when to persuade your people and when you have to coerce, and base it on reason and understanding. Get out of your office and circulate - to gather information, garner relationships and build trust. The book calls it management by walking around, although the commander takes it one step further.

"Leadership by wandering around," is what Col. Robert Hopkins, 451st EMXG commander, called it. "It's not management, it's leadership - then you can find ground truth."

Honesty and integrity are the best policies. Never act out of vengeance or spite, and have the courage to handle unjust criticism, or any criticism for that matter.

"Get comfortable with being uncomfortable," said Lt. Col. Brian Beers, 451st EMXG deputy commander.

He was talking about how being a leader means you're forced out of your comfort zone, to handle tough situations or hard decisions. You may become a squadron commander and need to inspire and reach out to your folks, even speak in front of them.

President Lincoln was dealing with a bleak Civil War with few generals who could step up to the task against the roaring General Lee of the South. Even at a towering six feet, four inches, Abe had to get comfortable at being uncomfortable, similar to what I'm sure our current President felt when taking office Jan. 20. He inherited two war fronts, a recession and serious domestic and international issues.

Exercise a strong hand and be decisive, encourage innovation. Lead by being led, set goals and be results-oriented. Keep searching until you find your "Grant" (the general who finally defeated General Lee).

"Some of the best ideas can come from the youngest Airman," said Capt. Naomi Haines, C-130 AMU officer in charge.

Captain Haines understands leadership involves listening to innovative ideas from her whole team. She understands how to lead by being led.

Master the art of public speaking. Influence people through conversation, and preach a vision and continually reaffirm it.

"At my first assignment as a two-striper, we never had a doubt of the priorities," said Maj. Buck Pennington, 451st EAXMS maintenance operations officer. "It was preached over and over and when something came up, we looked at how it met each of those priorities."

Colonel Hopkins shared his vision for the Maintenance Group: people, planes and processes focused on aircraft availability and munitions support. To him, keeping a level balance between the three equals success.

To me, bringing his officers together to talk about becoming better leaders is one sure way to achieve that vision.

Next book: "Cigars, Whiskey & Winning" by Al Kaltman - Leadership lessons from Ulysses S. Grant

Final comments by President Lincoln during his Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865: "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."