Commentary: For such a time as this - serving with boldness

By Col. Nathan Hill
388th Operations Group commander
April 12, 2012

In the ancient biblical story of Queen Esther, her cousin Mordecai advised her to take some bold steps to save her people. As part of his motivational speech, Mordecai said to her, "Who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?"

Those of us in the Air Force may not be royalty, but it's worth asking a similar question. Maybe you have become a shop chief, a team lead or a commander for "such a time as this." Every generation has their challenges, and we have ours.

If you buy in to the notion that you, as a leader, are here at this specific time and for a given purpose, then exactly how should you lead? I propose that you adopt a "bold, servant leader" approach. You've probably heard the expression "bold leadership," and you've probably heard of "servant leadership." But can you do both? I believe you can.

Boldness inspires those around us and conquers great obstacles, but it must be accompanied by purpose and grounded with common sense and integrity. A bold action that accomplishes no purpose is best defined as recklessness and does not help the Air Force or the needs of the people in the organization.

In his book, "The Servant," James C. Hunter states, "Leaders should identify and meet the needs of their people; serve them. I did not say that they should identify and meet the wants of their people or be slaves to them. Slaves do what others want; servants do what others need."

When we think of servants, we often think of individuals who are lower ranking and work to please their bosses. While this is not wrong, it doesn't paint the complete picture. We do serve our superiors. But how many of us serve our subordinates? Serving our subordinates is the essence of servant leadership. Subordinates need us to work for them, to help them achieve success. When they succeed, the organization succeeds. When their families are taken care of, morale improves. When the subordinates see a leader working for them and for the good of the organization, there is no limit to how much effort they will put forth to ensure the team succeeds.

Leaders in the Combined Air Forces (CAF) recently modeled bold, servant leadership. Extreme cuts to the FY12 Flying Hour Program were taking their toll on combat capability. Leaders at all levels worked overtime, spending extra effort to analyze and document the situation. With the data in hand, the difficult discussion led to bold, difficult proposals which led to difficult decisions to reallocate money to ensure our Air Force could maintain its combat readiness and prevent it from becoming a "hollow force." Now, the CAF will need bold, servant leaders to enact the changes to regain what was lost in the last six months.

As I ponder the notion of a bold, servant leader, I can't help but think that it's really just another way to describe our core values: servants put service before self; bold leaders channel their boldness to ensure excellence; and without integrity as a foundation, we risk doing it all recklessly and for the wrong reasons.

By the way, Queen Esther accepted her cousin's advice. She put the needs of her people before her own and boldly went to the king unannounced. Her risk paid off after the king extended his gold scepter allowing her to make the request that saved her people from death. She had indeed attained royalty for such a time as that.

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