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A Successful Leader

  • Published
  • By Maj. Jay Bertsch
  • 379th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron

As I considered topics for this article, I thought back on life lessons and what I consider to be a “successful leader”.  Yes, I’ve read books on leadership and management; however, I’ve come to realize that most of what I’ve learned about leadership has come from observing, not reading.  I truly believe we can learn something from everyone and throughout life we will see both good and bad examples of leaders.  Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to have worked for and beside many great leaders who’ve influenced my leadership style and formed my vision of what a successful leader should be.  I value leaders that…

…Lead by Example – Leaders must always set the example.  You should understand the needs of your team and ALWAYS consider the impact of your actions upon the members…and their families.  You should never ask anyone to do something that you have not done or are unwilling to do.  Walk the walk!  The team is more likely to do what you “do”, rather than what you “say”.  Always demonstrate, through your actions, that you are everything that you ask your team to be.

…Have a Vision – As a leader, you must know where you want to take your team and you must ensure that they know as well.  As some of you may attest, there are few things more disheartening than feeling you’re not contributing to the mission and that your efforts don’t matter.  It’s the leader’s responsibility to ensure everyone knows why they report to duty each day and why their duties are important.  Successful leaders provide their team with a well thought-out vision, direction, and goals that align with, and help the team obtain, that vision.

…Are Humble – A good leader should direct their energy toward making the organization great, not toward making themselves great.  Shift the focus away from yourself and recognize the contributions of your team instead.  “We”, “Us”, and “Our”, should replace “I”, “Me”, and “My”.  Don’t get me wrong, leaders should be proud of their personal achievements; just do so without arrogance and fanfare.  By remaining humble, you are bound to be more open-minded and receptive to other’s ideas. 

…Are Loyal – Above all, you must be loyal.  Not just to your country and service, but to every member of your team; they will demand your loyalty and you must demand theirs.  Team loyalty must be reinforced by knowing your people and letting them get to know you.  Recognize and reward good performance, correct poor performance, always challenge them, and be sure to invest in them.

…Can Laugh – Never take yourself too seriously.  I’m not saying to not take our jobs seriously, I’m just saying that sometimes you have to stop and laugh at some of the silliness that goes on around us.  Laughing avoids negativity and few things are more damaging to the morale of an organization than negativity.  Nothing is more contagious than a positive attitude and laughter.  When you and your team laugh together, they’ll see a personal side of you that they’ll appreciate. 

“Successful leadership” is not a science, there’s no magical formula and everyone has their own ideas on what defines successful leadership.  You don’t have to wear a certain rank or hold a certain duty title to be a leader.  Some of the most effective leaders in our military are the informal leaders…those that inspire people to follow them.  I think great leaders were first great followers and then conditioned themselves to think and behave in a way that made others want to follow them.  I challenge each of you to observe your leaders, learn from them and then decide for yourself what leadership traits you think are most effective…what makes you want to follow them?