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Chief's Corner - week of Sept. 18

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The mark of a good leader...

What is the mark of a good leader? This question comes up frequently during leadership panels I've attended in the past. Until now I hadn't thought through the significance of the question. On the surface, I can quickly say, humility is arguably one of the greatest attributes a good leader should possess. But, rather than explain why I hold that in such high regard, let me share with you what I believe is at the core of that question. My theory is this: people want to know what character trait you hold the high ground on as a leader as they build their own self-portrait of the leader they'll become. Secondly, and not so overt, is their observation of how you as a leader are leading through the words you choose to define a good leader. This will determine their level of conviction to follow. Let's look closer at both of these proposed theories.

Each of us holds the high ground and a strong conviction on some leadership trait that can probably be described as your "true north." The high ground, used in this context, represents the uncompromising grounds by which you lead and hold yourself accountable. The manner in which you lead is often reinforced by your conviction. Put the two together and we determine our "true north." The idiom "true north" informs us of the moral and ethical lines in the sand we are unwilling to cross. It keeps us pointing in the direction we want to travel relative to our current position. Let me add some context to reinforce this point.

As Airmen, we face challenges every day. Some of those challenges will test our loyalty, integrity, commitment, and sometimes as leaders, our use of authority. It should not be easy to drift from the line that points directly to each of these leadership tenets. However, and unfortunately, some people compromise their positions, only to drift from their "true north." Simply put, personal accountability falters, their conviction is stunted, and they lose their way. Humility demonstrated by other leaders who are in a position of trust is designed to help them find their way back to "true north" without casting them aside, understanding that each of us faces the same challenges or temptations in life. Be ever mindful that others are watching your response and will use your example of leadership as the backdrop to define themselves.

Your subordinates and others are careful to observe how you prove your leadership. This is critical on a number of accounts, far too many to highlight here but let me provide the framework to illuminate my position. If you say you lead with humility, there must be evidence that suggests you are humble. If you believe loyalty and integrity are strong traits that mark a good leader, then the evidence has to be indisputable. Remember, the individual who asks the question, "What is the mark of a good leader," is expecting you to lead him or her in the precise manner you proclaim is important.

What is your opinion on the mark of a good leader? Whatever word you choose, ask yourself this, "Do my actions support what I've stated to others, as what makes a good leader?" Monitor your "true north" and don't betray the trust that accompanies leadership. Such a betrayal would jeopardize the confidence placed in the individual leader. Consider Colin Powell's perspective. He said "The day Soldiers [Airmen] stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership." Let me conclude by saying, thanks for your leadership. Continue to lead our Airmen with great humility and they will follow.
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