Five lessons for the Grasshopper and the Vet

  • Published
  • By Nathan Simmons
  • 75th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
I've read my share of leadershipthemed material. Some seems indirect, vague and some of it truly makes me want to gag. Most of the leadership pieces I read seem drab, overdone and generally uninteresting. I'm no expert on the topic, but I've spent 18 months working in Hill's public affairs office, and been lucky enough to train under one of the best leaders I've ever met.

Being the young buck in my office has allowed me to learn from my mentors and occasionally lead the way. Leaders can be young or old, seasoned or inexperienced, but the following principles can help the young grasshopper just as they can the sensei. I don't care if you're turning wrenches or sitting behind a desk, whether you're at the top of the chain of command or you're the grunt, these lessons apply to you.

1.Don't take things for granted.

Some of the most uncomplicated, unchallenging tasks are the ones I've stumbled upon. I've sent a news release to the media with the "draft" watermark hovering in 60 point font in the background; something I smacked myself for later when I was asked about it by a well-renowned reporter. Your goal should be to give your best effort on everything you do.

2.Trust your people.

Give your people a strategic vision and don't hold the reigns so tightly. In some cases there are many ways to get a job done well, so take the monkey off your back and let your staff work for you. As Steven Covey wrote, managers spend much more time handling subordinates' problems than they faintly realize. As I cannot go into meticulous detail on this important point, I strongly recommend his piece in the Harvard Business Review, "Management Time: Who's got the Monkey?"

3.Come to your leadership with solutions.

When presenting a problem to your boss, come to the table with some possible solutions. Determining the best way forward can be talked through only after you've thought out potential resolutions. Getting your boss's perspective and direction is one thing; hoping your boss can come up with the answer to your problem is another. Coming to your leadership with recommendations not only puts you a step ahead in working through the predicament, it puts you on another level with your boss.

4.Communication is more important than you realize.

Communication is critical in a working relationship. Most who aren't meeting expectations aren't communicating enough with their leadership. If you have no idea what your boss's priorities are, how are you to know what your priorities should be? Thinking ahead and helping solve your boss's problems from your level goes a long way in your relationship with them. Communicating with your leadership and remaining aware of what challenges they are facing allows you to do this.

5.Never think you have it all figured out.

There is a reason this is the final lesson -- it's the most important. Regardless if you are a commander, supervisor, director, or industry expert, always remember there is more to learn. Be humble. You have to trust there are people who can teach you things you don't know, and sometimes show you a better way on the things you do. Realize we are all in this together and no one person has all the answers.

Whether you're a leader or not is up to you. The tag on your shirt or the title behind your name has no bearing on your ability to lead. If you're going to be a leader, be a good one. If you choose to follow, do that well also. Good leaders have been good followers.

If you're the younger, more inexperienced person in your shop like I am, realize that you have the capability to lead. Find a clear-cut leader in your organization and allow them to mentor you. Find someone who will take you under their wing and teach you, someone who will occasionally allow you to fail, which in turn will enable you to succeed. Someday you may be in the boss's chair, but that won't make you a leader. American author Kenneth Blanchard said "The key to successful leadership is influence, not authority."