Calling all informal leaders

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- I attended an NCO Academy graduation to watch three members of my squadron graduate and congratulate them on their accomplishment. Some parts from the guest speaker's speech really resonated with me. He focused on the application of leadership in three ways: intervention, pride and honor. What really stuck out in my mind is how, in every one of his points, the good leader is one who gets involved and makes a difference in the lives other people.

Some people default to thinking of leaders as those with rank on their collars or many stripes on their sleeves, but is that really true? Are those the only people who should get involved or strive to make a difference in other people's lives? Having the rank I described will certainly cause you to be placed in a position of greater responsibility. But neither the rank nor the position automatically dictates who is a leader.

Some of the most effective leaders, informal leaders, have less than a handful of stripes on their sleeves. How can this be? How can someone be such an influential person, a leader, when the Air Force hasn't even given them supervisory training such as Airman Leadership School yet? It comes down to having a willingness to get involved and the desire to make a difference, and it manifests itself in a number of different ways. Rank is not on that list of criteria to be a leader.

Most people think of work-related matters when the topic of leadership comes up. Obviously, that does apply. It applies to pitching in and dividing the workload so it gets done in a timely fashion; or monitoring and training individuals so the work is done correctly. It applies to telling someone poor attitude is holding them back and is adversely affecting the shop; or simply looking out for each other so everyone has an opportunity to take lunch. Getting involved at work is obviously very important and makes a difference.

Perhaps less obviously, this also applies outside of work. As an example, I would wager many people have seen or been a part of a situation that was on the verge of turning sour, whether it was a fight brewing, someone being pushy and not wanting to take "no" for an answer, or any variation of a six-pack-of-beer-induced "great idea." Hopefully we've all also seen someone step in to defuse the situation. Many times simply changing the social dynamic is all it takes to make the situation dissipate. Not all situations are that dramatic. In fact, there are many, many more ways of looking out for each other that aren't dramatic at all. But it takes someone who is willing to get involved, someone who wants to make a difference.

It takes an informal leader.

I urge each of you to think about how you can make a difference, at work or otherwise, and get energized and get involved. Trust me, amazing things will follow!