How to be a servant-leader

  • Published
  • By Maj. Timothy Kodama
  • 436th CPTS commander
When I left Randolph AFB a few years back, my boss gave me a book by James C. Hunter titled, The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership. In my mind, I was thinking, "didn't I tell him that I really don't read for leisure?" Of course, I accepted the gift graciously and decided to give it a go. The book was based on a powerful businessman who was failing in his leadership role as a boss, husband and father. Through his many trials and tribulations he came to recognize that leadership is not about power, but how we build relationships and serve one another ... servant-leadership.

From my experience, servant-leadership is defined as a leader whose first priority is to take care of the needs of their Airmen. The focus is on "needs," not "wants." How do you do this as a leader? I believe you need to step back in time when you were the Airman in the workcenter performing the mission. Did your supervisor invest the time to ensure you had the tools, guidance and training you needed to accomplish the mission, or did they leave you to your own devices?

As a leader, you need to build a strong foundation and develop mentoring relationships with your Airmen. This starts with the initial feedback. Don't be vague or assume that your Airmen understand what is expected. For many Airmen, Dover may be their first operational experience so it is extremely important when providing feedback that you are specific - state the obvious. Outline the task and you will be amazed at what junior Airmen can achieve. By doing so, you serve your Airmen well by building a foundation that creates motivated and successful Airmen.

Always encourage two-way communication with your Airmen. In my experience, communication is the key to fixing or preventing problems. Getting even the most junior Airmen's input while solving a problem is seen as positive, motivating the group. More importantly, as a leader it gives you an opportunity to mentor them to consider the bigger picture. Unlike the businessman in the book, this requires you to develop good listening skills. This skill takes time to develop and in the end will help you resolve your Airmen's issues quickly while making them feel like part of the team.

Know your Airmen's short-term and long-term goals in order to lead them down the right path to achievement. If you need help getting your young Airmen to where they need to be, then ask a Senior NCO. These servant-leaders have been down this path and have good advice for you to follow. When we leave our Airmen on their own, without any training or guidance, we fail as a leader. Take the time to talk to your Airmen about off-duty education and other ways to improve their lives. You serve your Airmen well by encouraging and coaching them through their personal self-improvement.

The result of the above actions is to develop a healthy and productive relationship with your Airmen so they can reach their full potential while accomplishing the mission. You can be successful in one aspect of your career or life and unsuccessful in another. The ultimate goal in servant leadership to your Airmen is to make them not just better Airmen but also better people. By displaying these basic leadership traits, you set up your Airmen for success not just in the Air Force but in life; and they too will become servant-leaders.