Year of Leadership: Peeling the onion

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Robert Pemp
  • 741st Missile Security Forces Squadron First Sergeant
During my last Front Range Guardian submission, I wrote about change and change management. Little did I know the extent of the changes to come for the Air Force between then and now. Ironically, then as now, we are looking down the barrel of an NSI inspection. At that time, I specifically asked each of you to examine yourself to see if you were ready to lead or be led. Today, my subject is much the same since the topic is leadership. Specifically, I would like to address discipline and its role in leadership. 

I challenge you to think of a past leader who has left the most positive image in your mind. Now stop, and dissect why that person left such a good impression on you. I would venture to say you are not thinking of the "yes boss" leader who didn't know how or when to say no. Nor do I hope it was the supervisor who worked endlessly, even tirelessly, in every possible direction but the right one. Are you picturing the one who led by blind ambition, with no forethought into how their actions, or lack thereof, affected the lives of those under or around them? We probably have had "that person" in our past, the one who fought their way through daily work by bouncing around from task to task like a pinball. In the end, they didn't really accomplishing a lot, but they sure could leave one heck of a storm behind while doing it (go ahead and subtract more cool points if they whined like a banshee while doing it). 

Then, there is the leader on the other side of the spectrum; that leader you initially despised for his or her unerring adherence to policy, yet later learned to love because you knew exactly where you stood and what was expected of you. Over time, you realized this leader rarely had to vocalize threats, warnings, or put "shots across the bow" to let you know where they stand, or where you would stand if you were to cross the line. Their policies and expectations were very transparent. Their unspoken message, which was clear to all under their charge, was one of discipline. 

If you were to "peel back the onion" on every great leader you've known, I'll bet you that there were some significant mentors and/or "mentoring moments" in their past, be it from a parent, supervisor, boss or friend. Someone instilled discipline in that person long before they earned their way to becoming that leader who is professionally steadfast, efficiently organized and highly competent. This leader simply "has it together" and motivates subordinates to action by example. Subordinates under this style of leadership will perform out of a desire to succeed not just for themselves, but out of respect for that boss as well. I firmly believe this latter type of leader does not get that way without a great measure of discipline in their personal and professional lives. More importantly, this leader will generally rule from a position of earned respect or authority from their subordinates and it is this style of leadership we all should strive to emulate. 

This latter type of leader comes prepared and expects to have to adapt to some curveballs along the way. They also know that those under them will not deal well with curveballs unless they are trained, equipped and disciplined to do the job. It's the "tough love" exhibited by truly leading your Airmen that can make the crucial difference in their level of expertise, professionalism and discipline to do the job as expected, without shortcuts, without fail, every time. 

The ways and means of how to instill such discipline will have to be a topic for another day. For now, I'll leave you with a quote or two: "It is absurd to believe that soldiers who cannot be made to wear the proper uniform can be induced to move forward (in battle). Officers who fail to perform their duty by correcting small violations and in enforcing proper conduct are incapable of leading." (George S. Patton, 1943). 

This can be summed up by one of our very own first sergeants, Senior Master Sgt. Jeffrey Neutzling,341st Missile Security Forces Squadron, who's often heard saying, "What you permit, you promote." 

Think of this as we go through our Year of Leadership and remember the Airmen under your charge (now or in the future) will not get there by accident or on their own. Are you ready to be "that" leader?