Great leadership is "Service Respect"

  • Published
  • By Maj. Paul Johnston
  • 71st Force Support Squadron commander
As so many of our base leaders change command this summer, it's timely to reflect upon the basis for great leadership. In my view, great leadership is understood by the phrase "Service Respect".

Service denotes a linkage to the Air Force Core Values - it is motivated externally and internally. Service is what a leader does in all circumstances.

Respect denotes the nature of service, both military and inherently personal, guided by rules. Rules are the product of training and experience. Respect explains how a leader acts in all circumstances. Service and respect form the basis of great leadership.

Service is motivated externally and internally. Externally, constraints establish the boundaries of service. These boundaries motivate because they affirm ownership of a kind. Nothing is more personal than ownership or possession.

The President commissions an officer to serve, obligated by an oath, and equipped with rank and position. These motivators drive a leader externally. Notice, each of these items provides authority and restriction: a commission within an oath, a rank within a position. The oath outlines an officer's purpose: to support and defend. A leader needs to take the initiative, the internal decision, to accept an appointment.

Internally, a leader must fill the void between him or her and those boundaries. Like a coloring book, leadership fills in the blanks. These voids are the leader's canvas. A beautiful picture results from taking possession of this raw space by serving. A leader has a limited amount of time to complete their service in each assignment. Initiative is a leader's greatest asset. Service, however motivated, needs a master.

Respect is the leader's context for service, the rules guiding action. Rules accelerate choices and harness energy to meet the mission. Olympic athletes know the rules of the game before they compete. Examples abound where a breach of the rules brought down the leader without respect. The metaphor of the coloring book extends to "staying in the lines". How the artist fills the page is set by rules.

The military is renowned for discipline: adherence to rules. The Airmen's authority for violence requires it. Rules sometimes rise to the level of law and policy, while others are unspoken. For rules to have service meaning, people must acknowledge them.

A leader needs to gather and interpret rules throughout their career by training and experience. And just as the leader's learning never ends, their responsibility to build and sustain these Air Force teams is crucial. Service Respect relies upon the success of Air Force teams more than any one leader. The relationship of service and respect are integral: the leader serves relying upon their own training and experience as well as that of their subordinates.

Service Respect involves leaders at every level. Air Force teams of noncommissioned officers, civilians, and contractors are leaders in their own right. Likewise, every leader is responsible for rules they create and support.

The Air Force Core Values serve the Air Force well. Rules may change, but values stand the test of time.

Service Respect is the "what" and "how" of great leaders and great leadership. Let's demonstrate Service Respect in everything we do here.