I once heard someone say, "If you think you're a leader, take a look behind you. If no one is following -- you're not leading. You're just going for a walk."
Now I don't know who said that, but it sure is true.
As several of our fellow Airmen digest the wonderful news of being selected for promotion to chief master sergeant, I'm reminded of just how pivotal that rank is, now more than ever, to enlisted leadership. With the demands of worldwide Air Force operations, budget constraints and all the realities of serving in the Armed Forces in this new millennium, strong enlisted leadership is crucial.
Air Force Instruction 36-2618, The Enlisted Force Structure, aka the Little Brown Book, says this of chiefs: "Chief master sergeants must epitomize the finest qualities of a military leader." The Brown Book goes on to state, that as key mentors, chiefs must "deliberately develop subordinates into enlisted leaders of the future."
Many folks grew up in an Air Force with more people and more money; with less of both today, serious challenges face our force every day. Mentoring and developing the leaders of tomorrow is a thing we need to be always mindful of. We sometimes took this development for granted in the past, but now who has time to grow leaders? We do, and we must continue to find the time to complete this essential task.
This is especially critical now as these new chief master sergeants leave their functional areas of expertise and begin viewing missions with a more strategic perspective and become responsible for diverse operations in helping lead flights and squadrons versus previously leading shops and offices.
To mentor, lead and develop effective teams, we all use different styles.
Let me illustrate a few different approaches to mentoring and growing leaders I've seen work over the years.
Chief Master Sgt. Duane Hackney is the most decorated enlisted Airman in Air Force history, and he was my first First Sergeant when I got to K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base in Michigan's Upper Peninsula in 1987.
Chief Hackney passed away in 1993, and the Hackney family lost a loved one and our Air Force lost a true hero. He was a rough and gruff true combat warrior who lived by the philosophy: "Don't walk by a chance to lead."
One of his favorite sayings was an old Hebrew quote: "If not me -- who? If not now -- when?" Basically, fix problems when you see them.
His philosophy was pretty simple. He'd repeat his sayings frequently and it took me a few years to really appreciate the depth of those questions. "If not me -- who? If not now -- when?"
Chief Hackney was also very direct and sometimes could summon up creative and very colorful "old school" language to get your attention when he thought you needed a little extra "correcting." His techniques worked amazingly well. We should all take the time to do some reading about Chief Hackney to learn about our enlisted heritage and the leadership model he provided.
I had another boss many years later named Master Sergeant Bill Kane. He was a bit different than ol' Chief Hackney.
Sergeant Kane was a supervisor I personally loved working for. He wasn't a snake-eater who was sporting a chest-full of war medals. He led simply by giving a darn about his people's lives. He knew my wife's name, knew I had three daughters and that I loved the Detroit Tigers. He cared about us, and we wanted to do a great job for him in return. You always knew when he was asking about your weekend or how the family was doing, he sincerely wanted to know.
As much as we ask from our Airmen these days, the importance of caring about them can't be emphasized enough.
NCO leadership is the key to getting it done, whether you approach each challenge head on like Chief Hackney or with sincere care like Sergeant Kane. However you do it, lead with your head, listen to your heart and treat people like you'd like to be treated, and no challenge will be too great.