Throughout his tenure, Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein has strongly endorsed the servant leadership model (United States Air Force Academy, 2019). In hierarchical organizations such as the military, leadership is often depicted as a pyramid with leadership at the top and followers at the bottom. However, what if this pyramid was inverted? Can one provide sound leadership while also focusing on serving one’s followers? The actions of the Bloody Hundredth’s Comptroller Squadron Commander, Maj John Doe offer resounding evidence in the affirmative.
Leadership:Theory and Practice author Peter G. Northouse describes the servant leadership model as a “paradox” (2018, p. 227). The basic notion of leadership is that followers serve leaders, but leaders can also serve followers. Northouse defines servant leadership as a model that “emphasizes that leaders be attentive to the concerns of their followers, empathize with them, and nurture them (2018, p. 227).
On September 13th, 2018, the RAF Mildenhall community awoke to the news that a critical member of its team lost his struggle shortly after the onset of unexpected heart complications. Deputy Budget Officer of 26 years, Chris Richards was loved and respected by the entire RAF Mildenhall community and the all were saddened by this sudden loss. The loss of Chris’ expertise and leadership were felt most acutely in the Wing Budget Office.
With the end of fiscal year scramble in full swing, the Budget Office lost one of its key members. New Comptroller Squadron Commander, Maj John Doe was to face a significant test only two weeks into his command. Though Maj Doe knew the path ahead would prove difficult, he prioritized the well-being being of his team and strove to ensure that all efforts were made to provide support to the grieving members.
To achieve a successful closeout of Fiscal Year 2019, Maj Doe recognized that he needed his entire team to be combat effective. Through an empathetic and healing approach, Maj Doe helped his team to recover from the unexpected loss. His ultimate goal was to serve his subordinates, see to their needs, and help them to cope with the loss of their friend and colleague.
On the day of Chris’ funeral, Maj Doe closed his offices and declared the service an alternate duty location, allowing all members of his Squadron to attend the event. By granting his team the time necessary to mourn their friend, he gained their loyalty and respect. Maj Doe’s actions, in this case, typify the servant leader. As discussed by Northouse (2018) the “long-term outcomes of putting others first include positive social change and helping society flourish” (p. 240).
The results of Maj Doe’s efforts were evident in the Squadron’s performance during end of year closeout procedures. The team performed flawlessly while maintaining high morale throughout the endeavor. In memory of Chris, Maj Doe also continued one of Chris’ favorite traditions, offering to pick up the tab for pints at the Club to ‘ring in the new fiscal year.’ Maj Doe’s servant leadership brought his team closer together during a time when it could have quickly fallen apart.
Northouse, P.G. (2018). Leadership: Theory and practice (8th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
United States Air Force Academy. (2019, February 25). Servant leadership | CSAF Gen David L. Goldfein. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=1YjP28ABmZM