Leadership: Touching the soul of the organization

  • Published
  • By Col. Dwayne LaHaye
  • 71st Mission Support Group commander

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Over the last 24 years, I’ve discovered some basic leadership traits and truths that help create new beginnings and new opportunities for a team in pursuit of excellence.

These traits are universal and aren’t just for senior leaders, but for anyone at any level stepping into a leadership role. Employing these strategies can improve performance, break down barriers and reverse institutional inertia. In no particular order…

Invest more time in listening than in talking. Non-verbals communicate louder than what you say. But here’s the bottom line – you are the message. Your character, your competence, your compassion and your behavior are better communication tools than anything you say.

It really is your walk, not your talk. When your people begin to realize you’re actually listening, and doing something about their concerns, you’ll begin to touch the soul of the organization.

Bring so much energy with you that your people can’t help but get excited about achieving great things. I’m talking new “never before” heights of success. Use that energy to help Airmen, to answer their questions and to ask them the right questions. When you’re passionate, your people will reflect that passion for the mission!

Always pay it forward. It’s not what you get but what you give. Sure, you’ve heard those little jewels before. Now is the time to embrace them by injecting positive momentum into the workspace ecosystem.

Leave your ego at home. Trust me, it will be there when you return. Ego is your perception of yourself -- and it’s usually distorted within the context of your job position and the people you are entrusted to lead. A healthy ego can be a good thing, but an inflated ego can and will prevent you from learning about your Airmen, which will stunt the growth of your organization.

Finally, focus on the 99 percent of Airmen who are doing it right every day. Don’t get bogged down on the 1 percent who consistently don’t meet standards. They will be that way no matter what kind of leader you are. When you have to, make the unpleasant decisions, don’t dwell, and move on.

Making these traits actionable can take a lot of energy -- and that’s why command jobs are time-limited. Command slots are short not because you’ll become too familiar or jaded, but because if you’re doing it right, command is both physically and mentally exhausting. You are hustling from one fire to another, from one opportunity to another.

Each of those opportunities gives you a chance to not only give back to your organization, but to understand what drives it. In realizing that motivation, you can begin to influence changes in behavior and output from the tactical level, rather than pronouncing policy from a command seat.