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Guideposts for successful leadership

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- January's "Year of Leadership" focus on Training and Education provided me with an opportunity to reflect on the many successes and personal milestones I've experienced during a 28-year career I can only characterize as "extremely rewarding." Much of my success can be attributed to the outstanding supervisors, leaders and mentors I served alongside who took a personal interest in my professional development.

Over the course of my career, some of the most valuable lessons I've learned were derived from three basic leadership principles: The first of which is "Know Yourself." This involves taking an honest look inward and identifying your strengths and weaknesses. This introspective exercise has helped me to increase my self-awareness and given me a better understanding of how my own values and principles affect my decisions and actions. It's human nature to want to stay in our comfort zones. However, we need to be willing to venture outside of our cocoons periodically and seek new challenges to enhance our professional growth. Having a firmer grasp of one's own capabilities and limitations can be advantageous...you'll know when to ask for help.

The second principle is "Know Your Job." Whether you're in the business of launching rockets, managing information systems, caring for patients, or handling complex personnel issues, strive to be the subject matter expert in your given job or specialty. Take advantage of the many opportunities the Air Force provides to enhance your knowledge and skills. If you're a trainer or supervisor, don't forget to grow your replacement! If you're irreplaceable, you're not promotable...

The third and last principle is "Know Your People." Why is this principle important? An effective leader must be able to sense and understand the viewpoints of everyone around the table. I found the most effective leaders throughout my career all shared one common trait: They all had exceptional "people skills." These leaders took a personal interest in their subordinates. They fostered open and honest communication and inspired each member of the team to focus on a common goal. And finally, they all practiced empathy in the process of making intelligent decisions.

These three basic principles served as the theme for a six-week NCO Academy Course I attended almost 20 years ago. They've withstood the test of time and have served as guideposts for me throughout my career. Perhaps you'll find them to be useful as well...