The challenge

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- We often look to leaders to challenge us -- whether it is to find in ourselves talent we didn't realize we had, to simply build a new process or to find the right person for the job at hand. Ralph Waldo Emerson mused, "our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be." As I consider those leaders who inspire me to excel, they share five characteristics: integrity, wisdom, courage, humility and faith.

Integrity, the first of our core values, forms the basis of all relationships. The confidence we have in the promises we make to each other builds trust in partnerships and service-oriented relationships. When we know we can rely on that trust, we gain strength from the understood standard of behavior, empowering people to do the right thing every time. Sometimes integrity sounds easy -- tell the truth, be honest with your friends and co-workers, and report suspicious or malicious activity. Integrity becomes more difficult when personal pride is involved or when we fear the opinions of others. Leaders I admire do the right thing even when they know no one is watching.

Wisdom is more than just being smart. We achieve wisdom through education and training as well as experience. We've all met people who are book smart but lack common sense. Balancing what we learn in training environments with life lessons forms the basis of wise choices and useful advice to peers, subordinates and our leaders. Wise leaders are those who seek first to understand the situation or person in context, applying insight and judgement based on what they've learned.

Courage implies purposeful action despite a consciousness of imminent danger or consequence. It's easy to recognize courage in battle, when an Airman chooses what he knows to be a dangerous course of action in order to save the lives of others. We truly admire those who have earned medals for their deeds. But that's not usually the courage we live with every day. It's not always easy to stand up for our beliefs or what we know to be right -- that takes moral courage. I can tell by the jut of their chins and the determination in their eyes who the leaders living by moral courage are.

Humility is recognition that no one person can do or be it all. We have all had help in getting to where we are today--whether it's the father who insisted on homework before dinner, the best friend who wouldn't quit the basketball team even though he rode the bench or the supervisor who perfected briefings. We know those people who were there for us at difficult crossroads and taught us what it meant to choose the right path. We owe them our gratitude and best efforts. Discipline and respect for others is also a part of humility as we realize self-control and service to others brings harmony to our world. Leaders I respect seek first to humbly serve others rather than themselves.

Finally, faith. Without faith we are lost. Whether we worship God or simply believe in a higher power, it's essential to find that place within ourselves where we can be at peace with things we cannot change. There is composure and stability in faith drawn from the abiding hope for a better day, a better place or a better way. A faith community also lends strength when needed and provides a means to support others without question. That faith reaches out to others and binds people in celebration and sorrow. I look for faith in leaders, knowing we will share joy in success and meet failure with a resolve to do better.

Now I challenge each of you. Be the leader I would follow. Inspire others to be what they know they can be. Lead by example through integrity, wisdom, courage, humility and faith.