Leaders are built with strong foundation

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Gregory W. Papke
  • 31st Medical Support Squadron commander
Since being stationed at Aviano Air Base, I have enjoyed running and biking through many old towns and areas of historical and cultural significance. On one occasion, when running through a small town, I started thinking about the construction of its ancient structures. The buildings continue to stand firm and are as precise today as when they were first built hundreds of years ago. The craftsmanship is so good you can't pass a knife between the stones. My thoughts then turned to great leaders and their guiding principles, as there are many similarities between great leadership and the ancient solid walls that I had just seen.

There are a few essential principles to building a firm leadership foundation. The more solid your leadership foundation is from the start, the better leader you will become with each additional layer added. Here are five simple leadership tenets that have withstood the test of time, much like the ancient structures you can observe throughout Europe.

1. Know yourself and continually seek self-improvement. A leader never stops learning because no one knows everything. As you go through life it is important to continue to read, travel and seek advice so you can grow as a leader and as a person.

2. Always set the example and be a good role model for your Airmen. People believe what they see and not what they hear. The Air Force core values are a great guide: integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do. The simple fact is that Airmen can lead by example and carve out a very successful military career by just exuding and adhering to the Air Force core values each and every day.

3. Know your people and look out for their well-being. Know human nature and the importance of sincerely caring for the Airmen you supervise; particularly taking interest in mentoring and helping younger Airmen because one day they will be in charge and making important decisions. This is all part of being a good mentor, leader and wingman.

4. Ensure that tasks are simple, well understood, supervised and accomplished. Communication is crucial. Always make sure to communicate clearly with your Airmen.

5. Finally, train your people to work together as a team. Developing a team spirit allows Airmen to perform to their full potential. Teamwork also has synergistic affects as a team's sum soon becomes greater than its parts.

Continue to build on these five leadership principles and you will certainly become a better leader that, like the buildings I run past, stands the test of time. I urge you to continue to seek new ways to innovate and become a better leader. With time and effort you will become one.