Developing a leadership philosophy

  • Published
  • By Maj. Tina Nguyen
  • 71st Comptroller-Contracting Squadron commander
What makes a good leader? What characteristics do good leaders have in common? How are leaders measured? 

I asked myself these questions while developing my leadership philosophy in preparation for squadron command. 

My bosses at Air Education and Training Command, Financial Management, Col. Chip Fulghum and Lt. Col. Jim Peccia, "recommended" that I have a leadership philosophy before commanding my first squadron because it would help guide me. 

I had ideas of what makes a good leader that I hadn't articulated yet. I thought about the questions I asked above, wrote down the characteristics I observed in my leaders, and came up with a whole slew of attributes. 

I narrowed down the list to what I thought made a good leader: someone who is compassionate and caring, holds others and herself accountable, truly listens, has unquestioned integrity, has a positive attitude, empowers others, earns respect and is willing to sacrifice and serve others. 

I arranged the characteristics into an acronym so that it would be more memorable:
· Compassionate
· Accountable
· Listens
· Integrity
· Positive attitude
· Empowers
· Respect
· Sacrifices 

I can use the CALIPERS acronym to measure the quality of a leader, since calipers are measuring instruments. 

Good leaders are measured by how well they exhibit these attributes; they are caring leaders who set the example and earn their followers' respect because of who they are, not because of their position. 

At the end of the day, leaders who don't listen to others because they think they know best, who don't empower their people because they must maintain control or who cut corners because it's easier will not measure up as good leaders. 

Having a leadership philosophy is useless if I don't apply it to myself. There are some attributes that are more natural for me, but there are a few I need to continue developing. Balancing "compassionate" and "holding others accountable" is an example of the difficulties of applying my leadership philosophy.

The compassionate side of me wants to give people multiple chances, but I know that I have to hold them responsible for their actions. I won't do the individual or the squadron any favors by letting the person get away with his or her actions. 

Colonel Fulghum called these two attributes "hugs" and "whippings." A good leader is able to balance the two, giving encouragement - hugs -- when needed, but holding people accountable - whippings -- when they need a reminder of how things should be done. 

Requiring that I develop a leadership philosophy was a "whipping" I received from Colonel Fulghum. As a good leader, he was looking out for me. 

I am more comfortable as a squadron commander knowing that I can articulate my leadership philosophy, and my squadron knows what to expect from me. 

My method of developing my leadership philosophy is just one of several. I've seen leadership philosophies modeled on great leaders of the past and ones based on what not to do as a leader. 

Whatever the method, developing a leadership philosophy and knowing how to apply it is essential for a commander. 

What's your leadership philosophy?