What is leadership? It's an interesting thought and has been the topic of books, classes, courses and doctoral dissertations. The military and business both study leadership. And I suppose there are some out there like me who ask, "What can a chaplain contribute to the topic of leadership?"
I have been observing leadership for years, both good and bad, both in myself and in others. And over time I have collected some random thoughts about leadership that I use in life. In fact, they are on "yellow stickies" which I keep posted on a bulletin board over my computer.
The first "yellow sticky" leadership thought deals with its nature and who can be a leader. I heard Dr. John Maxwell say, "Leadership is influence or the ability to influence others." If that is the case, then everyone can be a leader. The parent at home with their children can be a leader. The teacher in the classroom can influence and be a leader. The high school student can influence her peers -- for good or bad. The preacher in the pulpit can influence and be a leader. If leadership is influence, then I can definitely be a leader.
The second "yellow sticky" leadership thought has to do with when to lead. It comes from now retired Chief Master Sgt. Jeff Howard. He had had some interesting assignments -- some that he couldn't tell even me, the chaplain, about. But at one Airman Leadership School graduation I heard him say to the graduates, "Most leaders don't get to pick the situations the lead in. They become known as leaders by how they lead in the situations they are in."
His point was that we won't usually get to set the conditions we are called to lead in. Situations will come up. Life happens. Stuff goes wrong. And you just might find yourself in a bad situation. But that is when leaders are exposed. They don't whine about their situation but find a way out for them and their people. Whether it's a complex funding problem for their organization, a group of rowdy dorm neighbors or the sudden death of a key family member, the people who get the title "leader" get it because of what they choose to do with the situations they are in, not the one they wish they were in.
The last "yellow sticky" leadership thought regards decision-making, a key part of leadership. It comes from a former wing commander who gave us his decision matrix for how he made tough decisions. As a commander, both at squadron and wing level, he was constantly presented with ideas of how to do things or equipment he should buy for the mission. He came down with three filtering questions: "Is it good for the Air Force? Is it good for the unit? Is it good for the individual?" He would ask them in that order of priority too. Leadership involves making choices, sometimes tough choices. Having a clear decision-making matrix can help with those decisions.
So, what have I learned about leadership? Well, I've learned that anyone can be a leader at some level, those with leadership aptitude seem to step up when the going gets tough and having a clear decision-making matrix can help when a leader has to make tough decisions. And I've learned that being a leader requires my constant attention. Maybe it's time to put another "yellow sticky" on my board. It should say, "Are you leading now?"