Leadership catch-phrases

  • Published
  • By Master Sergeant Jack Rhodes
  • Airman Leadership School Commandant
I'd like to take a moment to discuss an interesting phenomenon called catch phrases.
We've seen them in movies, advertising and television. Catch phrases are easily recognizable as being said by wrestlers, movie stars, and politicians.
In the leadership world, we've got our own set of catch-phrases that have become mantras to avoid trouble, or fix things, rather than for recognition.

So what I'd like to share with you is some of those mantras I've learned, over the years that stuck with me.

Don't throw your people under a bus:

When subordinates make honest mistakes, leaders must keep the accountability. Why? Because, as leaders, any successes belong to our subordinates and any failures belong to us. By letting our people work under our protection, we give them that potential for personal growth and set the example that they will one day choose to follow.

Stop mopping the floor and turn the water off:

How many times have you been in this situation? Leaders have the responsibility and duty to fix the underlying cause of a problem. ...turn the faucet off!

If the baby is ugly, say so:

Human nature and all being what it is, we sometimes put our need of being liked by our subordinates before necessary action. We don't want to tell them they've made a mistake. In most cases, if we just tell them their behavior is bad, they stop doing whatever it is that they were doing! Other times, we may have to look them in the eye and say "we've got an ugly baby here."

Don't be a mediocre anything:

Some of us appear to be destined for mediocrity of our own design: complacency, accepting the status quo, not correcting standard violations. Someone who behaves in this manner is mediocre. Take any ORI report and you will likely see mediocrity at its best with some write ups that could easily be avoided.


In the Air Force, there's one catch-phrase that is well understood and should replace "Hooah," which our Army brothers and sisters use. I learned from Chief Master Sergeant Bob Vasquez (Retired) who educated me on this phenomenal word that was an answer to everything, Air Force. He suggests "Airpower!" He then proceeded to say that although it's "airpower" it's spelled H-E-I-R-power. That is because of our inheritance and our legacy to our successors. What will be your legacy?