An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Leadership challenges, qualities

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jose Silva
  • 451st Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron First Sergeant

As military members we are constantly learning about developing leaders.  What is leadership, and what does it mean to you? 


According to the Professional Development Guide, Leadership is the art of influencing and directing people to accomplish the mission.  Leadership is more than getting others to do your bidding.  True leadership requires that you listen to others and understand those who criticize and question your ideas. 


Leaders provide vision, direction, motivation, and emotionally charge individuals throughout their organizations to accomplish the mission.  Research shows us there are numerous styles of leadership and various theories on leadership strategies, however, which facet, style, or characteristic of leadership is important to you?


With leadership come obstacles.  As we hear over and over again, we need competent leaders who can produce change and, guess what?  That is the ultimate test of a leader -- that they can produce significant change.  Let's discuss some challenges and qualities of leadership.


Leaders fail.  Sometimes the failures are well known within the organization or quietly exist and go on for some time with only a few people being aware but not saying anything.  And, even more oddly perhaps, senior leaders themselves are often unaware of their own failures.


My point is not to bash leaders for their failures, but to put failures into perspective and to see if we can all use them as a leadership lesson for development.  If you are a leader, you are going to experience failure.  Accept that as fact. 


Leadership by arrogance or denial breeds negative cultures within the organization.  This typically manifests itself in a variety of ways, such as some degree of arrogance that is evident to many, strongly expressed anger visited on whoever happens to be in the way, or even retaliation against people who oppose them. 


The failure at this point is that the leader has begun to fail the people around them by creating a climate of fear rather than an environment where it is safe to give the boss feedback. 


The danger here is twofold: (1) without understanding where they are falling short, leaders perpetuate their poor performance, especially as it impacts others; and (2) pride and arrogance lead to greater potential failures. 


How can we strive to overcome failure?


Honest self-awareness in a leader must begin as a daily discipline.  Simply, quietly take stock and review your actions and relationships of the day.  Commitment and humility are continually tested from the time leaders take on their first leadership roles.  Let's look at some qualities of leadership.


One quality valued in leaders is the ability to build an organization where truth and transparency prevail.


Lack of truth promotes fear and fear leads to distrust and a loss of creativity and innovation.  Leaders need to lead, not take over management of the organization.

This leads into micromanagement of your organization. 


Leaders need not render their management team ineffective.  Leaders lead and provide direction; managers will manage and execute.   Leaders need to ensure people are honest and exude integrity by soliciting honest feedback and acting on it.    


Integrity needs to be displayed from top to bottom.  Truth-telling changes the entire climate of an organization, making it healthy and leads to a healthy culture of change where people trust the leader and each other without fear.  


Other qualities of leadership:


-- Leaders take complexity and bring simplicity to it. You might call it focus, prioritization, or even alignment, but a necessary competency leaders need to have.


-- A resolute and unflinching focus on the purpose of the organization coupled with a deep sense of humility--self discipline and organizational discipline to understand and to keep focused on the objectives of the organization.


-- Leaders grow the next generation of leaders--coaching, supporting, and mentoring -teach in the workplace during teachable moments and above all, be an example.


-- Leaders shape the culture of the organization--leaders need to understand what their culture is, how to change it if necessary, and leverage the culture toward excellent performance for the service of others.


-- General Bill Creech expressed his view of how to lead people-- "let your people know that you care about them, that you love them.  With it, you have great latitude for forgiveness, without it, nothing else is important in leading people."


If you are in the Air Force you are or will soon be in a position of leadership.  Some of us are informal leaders or direct leaders -- placed in a position of authority by rank or skill level. 


Always strive to develop your leadership knowledge, skills, and abilities by continuing to learn from current leaders on "what to do or what not to do." 


I will conclude with a quote from Gen. Ronald Fogelman:  "Good leaders are people who have a passion to become successful leaders, we must first learn that no matter how good the technology or how shiny the equipment, people-to-people relations get things done in our organizations.  People are the assets that determine our success or failure.  If you are to be a good leader, you have to cultivate your skills in the arena of personal relations."