Essence of leadership … influence

  • Published
  • By Col. Burton H. Catledge, 45th Operations Group Commander
I had the opportunity to attend a Basic Military Training (BMT) graduation a couple of years ago, which was a memorable, personal and professional experience. It was personal because my oldest son was one of the graduates. It was professionally memorable because I was reminded of the commander’s responsibility to serve our Air Force’s newest Airmen.

Although there were 477 graduates, there were at least 1,500 family and friends in the bleachers to show their unwavering support. That’s when it hit me. Basic Military Training graduation symbolizes the transition from civilian to military life and these families and friends had just entrusted their sons and daughters, their treasures, to a person that they would likely never meet.

These are the same family members who had recently scrutinized schools, interviewed doctors, and spent thousands of dollars on piano lessons in order to mature, guide and develop their most precious treasures.

It was now a commander’s responsibility to continue that same care and development of their treasures.

I reflected upon the type of commander I wanted for my son and this challenged me to be that type of commander. I wanted a commander that not only preached Air Force core values but consistently applied these principles in their conduct and decision-making. I wanted a commander willing to make difficult and unpopular decisions to accomplish the mission. I wanted a commander who recognized that he or she was placed in this leadership position to serve and not to be served. Finally, I wanted a commander for my son who sought betterment of the organization over any personal achievement.

When I was notified that I was selected for command, I asked a number of former commanders for their advice. The best advice I received was from retired Col. Bob Gibson, who said that “it’s all about leadership.” The essence of leadership is influence and it is our job as commanders to influence the next generation of leaders. Command is not perpetual and we should strive to leave the organization and people better than when we received it.

Although the commander’s job description is “being responsible for everything … all of the time,” we cannot overlook or assume that someone else will take care of our Airmen. Taking care of Airmen is a commander’s priority that cannot be delegated. In the midst of the taskers, performance reports, decorations, staff meetings and emails, don’t forget that there is a mom, dad, sister, brother or friend who has entrusted us to care for their treasures who we know as America’s Airmen.