There are two times you join the Air Force. First is when you enlist, and this is obviously the birth of your military career. The second is when you actually join the Air Force. I heard these words spoken by the commander of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Colonel Donn C. Yates. To be honest, I’m not even quite sure what the briefing was about, but I do remember being highly motivated by Col. Yate’s words. I was highly motivated because I believe I was at a turning point within my Air Force Career. I had just started a new position as an instructor and I believed in the mission that I had. Additionally, my supervisors were great leaders and mentors that would guide me through the next four years of my career as an instructor.
During my time as an instructor, I learned that I enjoyed serving my students. It’s kind of a hard dynamic to explain but, I believe I cared about my students so much because I empathized their situation as a student in field training. I wanted to provide my students the best environment for training as well as an opportunity to decompress from the stressors that their jobs as aircraft maintainers supplied them with. I believe this was the developmental stage of my servant leadership and also provided me the outlook of finally joining the Air Force.
Servant leadership is defined as, “natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first… to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test . . . is: do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?” (Greenleaf, 1970, as cited by Northouse, 2016, p. 225). Because I empathized with my students, I knew what it was like to be in their shoes, I wanted to serve them. I wanted them to replenish their energy levels and get re-motivated about being in the Air Force. I think by being a servant leader to my students most importantly, I was trying to prevent them from becoming the toxic leadership that we, on the flightline, are too familiar with. “By creating a culture founded on servant leadership, NCOs can both stop toxic leadership and help those exhibiting poor leadership to grow” (Command Sgt. Maj. Rory Malloy, 2019, as cited by Matison, 2019). I played TED talk videos by General McChrystal trying to prevent my students from becoming those who like to say ‘these new guys aren’t as tough as we were growing up’. General McCrystal sheds light on finding the strengths of the newer generation of soldiers (2011). I also played a TED talk by Drew Dudley who say’s anyone can be a leader (2010). I explained to my students that even as young Airman, they are leading by example. Their actions are constantly being scrutinized and evaluated by the younger airman that are coming in after them and will be mimicked. In addition to empathy, Northouse explains that there are nine more characteristics that servant leaders display: listening, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community. Among these traits I believe that I emulate listening, building community, and commitment to the growth of people the best.
Listening is important to servant leadership because it builds perspective and trust. One of the first things I did in my current position as the noncommissioned officer in charge of the debrief section is ask what changes do we need to make? I needed my follower’s perspective because of my lack of experience within this new section. I think this also supported me building community and cohesion within my new section. I didn’t just ask the highest ranking individual what he/she thinks we need to change, I asked everyone and appreciated everyone’s input. Lastly, my commitment to the growth of my subordinates is evident through my daily actions and feedback sessions. During our initial feedback sessions, I asked about goals and interests in the work place and outside of work. I then follow up daily with questions about how things are going in these areas. For example, I have a subordinate who has interests in fresh water fish and houses many aquariums within his household. I find ways to ask him about what he’s done recently with his aquariums at home and I try to encourage him to begin taking school classes to begin his pursuit in marine biology. Service before self is one of the Air Force’s core values and my focus on my younger airman is the passion that made me realize why I continue to serve in the world best Air force.
Dudley, Drew (September 2010). Everyday Leadership. TED. https://www.ted.com/talks/drew_dudley_everyday_leadership?language=en
Matison, Jennifer. ‘Segeant’ means ‘servant’: How NCO’s typify the servant leader. May 14, 2013. Accessed: armyupress.army.mil/Journals/NCO-Journal/Archives/2013/May/05-14-Servant-Leader/
McChrystal, Stanley (March 2011). Listen, learn…then lead. TED. https://www.ted.com/talks/stanley_mcchrystal_listen_learn_then_lead?language=en
Northouse, Peter G. Leadership. SAGE Publications, Inc. (US), 2016. [MBS Direct].