Leadership: Service Before Self

  • Published
  • By Brig. Gen. Susan Helms
  • 45th SW commander
In a twisted way, leadership is both extremely easy and extremely difficult. It's easy because there are simple, consistent and enduring themes that any leader will tell you will work. But it's hard because what you hear from someone else in a classroom situation is sometimes much more difficult to practice. Our Air Force Core Values can be your internal compass to navigate your way through tough problems when you face them for real, and that litany you hear in your heart is the Airman's Creed. 

In practice, you know integrity when you see it, and you all know that a lack of integrity in both people and process can be the downfall of an organization. "Excellence in All We Do" can be viewed as a standard, a metric by which we measure ourselves and announcement of what we expect out of ourselves to preserve our place as the premiere Air Force in the world. And what about "Service Before Self?" Service Before Self is the embodiment of how we execute the oath we all took to become members of the Armed Forces, but what does that really mean to you - you who are leaders and those who will soon be leaders? 

Everyone understands what it means when you get tapped for a deployment, or yet another additional duty, or when you are called in to work an exercise - just at the mo-ment when you had plans to spend time with your family and friends. In some cases, people can shrug their shoulders and say, "Hey I have to do this, it's Service Before Self," or worse yet, I've seen leaders shrug their shoulders and say, "Hey, you have to do this, it's Service Before Self." 

Service Before Self can be the most elusive and difficult of the core values. There is the global view of service, the one with which we all resonate, the one that translates into mission statements for both your organization and the Air Force. That service we all understand. But there's another part of your service that must be on your "radar scope" - your responsibilities to develop the Airmen under your care, both personally and professionally. 

As a supervisor, you are expected to execute your mission, but you also have a responsibility to mentor those you supervise. Are you making sure that every Airman you lead is becoming a better Airman for the Air Force? Have you embraced your role as a mentor and advisor as part of your service? Are you keyed into the fact that it's the "quality" of the supervision you provide that really matters, not the "quantity" of Airmen you lead? 

As the wing commander, I can tell you that being a leader is a great privilege and carries great responsibilities, but the same is true for anyone who supervises just one other person below them. Never is it so important to remember that our "service" includes a very special mission - the development of our greatest weapon, our people! Go Sharks!