Strong leadership is a great balancing act

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. James Hanlon III
  • 702nd Munitions Support Squadron commander
The key to being successful in the military is our ability to develop good leadership practices. Our Air Force culture expends vast resources aimed at achieving well-trained leaders.

We should appreciate our professional military education and embrace every opportunity to develop leadership skills both in and outside the classroom. I have spent much of my adult life in search of examples of great leadership -- through military, political and religious leaders.

You need not go far in our Air Force to find examples of great leadership. As part of personal and professional development, it is your duty to ask yourself the secret of their success and try to pattern yourself after their success.

Avoid the pitfall of embracing a leadership style that may not jibe with the environment or culture.

I discovered there is no perfect leader. From Caesar to Napoleon, Garibaldi to Lincoln , they all had their genius and their share of faults. So what was the common denominator of all of these successful leaders?

It was their great personal courage in the face of adversity and their ability to adapt their leadership to the environment in which they found themselves.

From the commander to the lowest ranking member of a squadron, we are all leaders. It is imperative that we, as members of the profession of arms, continually re-assess our leadership styles and develop motivational methods. I have spent many hours dwelling on what kind of leader I want to be and the most effective style to use. Leadership is situational and must be relevant to the mission, assigned personnel and organizational culture.

In other words, leadership is a great balancing act that must be continually monitored, tuned and balanced to fit our environment.

The following guide to the great balancing act of leadership is taken from an article by Jim Rohn called “The Qualities of Skillful Leadership.”

In it, he espouses the importance of remaining flexible as a leader, continuing to refine our leadership skills and adapting our style to environmental variables until we become effective leaders: Learn to be strong but not rude. It’s an extra step toward becoming a powerful, capable leader. Some people mistake rudeness for strength. It’s not even a good substitute.

Learn to be kind but not weak. We must not mistake kindness for weakness. Kindness isn’t weak. Kindness is a certain type of strength. We must be kind enough to tell somebody the truth. We must be kind enough and considerate enough to lay it on the line. We must be kind enough to tell it like it is and not deal in delusion.

Learn to be bold but not a bully. It takes boldness to win the day. To build your influence, you’ve got to walk in front of your group. You’ve got to be willing to take the first arrow, tackle the first problem, discover the first sign of trouble.

Be humble, but not timid. You can’t get to the high life by being timid. Some people mistake timidity for humility. Humility is a grasp of the distance between us and the stars, yet having the feeling that we’re part of the stars. So humility is a virtue; but timidity is a disease. Timidity is an affliction. It can be cured, but it is a problem.

Be proud but not arrogant. It takes pride to win the day and build your ambition. It takes pride in cause, in accomplishment. The key to becoming a good leader is being proud without being arrogant. I believe the worst kind of arrogance is arrogance from ignorance. It’s when you don’t know that you don’t know. If someone is smart and arrogant, we can tolerate that. But if someone is ignorant and arrogant, that’s just too much to take.

Develop humor without folly. That’s important for a leader. In leadership, we learn that it’s okay to be witty, but not silly. It’s okay to be fun, but not foolish.

Lastly, deal in realities. Deal in truth. Save yourself the agony. Just accept life like it is. It’s fascinating. And I’ve found that the skills that work well for one leader may not work at all for another. The fundamental skills of leadership can be adapted to work well for just about everyone: at work, in the community, and at home.

These are great words to keep and reflect on periodically as you continually develop your own leadership skills.