Constant leadership improvement worthy pursuit

  • Published
  • By Kevin Stocking
  • 460th Space Wing Plans and Programs
While I enjoy reading about leaders and what made them successful, writing about leadership and what can make someone else successful is a different thing entirely.

The debate of whether leaders are born or made has always fascinated me. I have never met a good leader who thought they came by it naturally; they always defer to their own past experiences or the examples of others - usually both.

Not everyone who is put in a leadership role is a leader, but hopefully, everyone has the desire to become a good leader regardless of the leadership sphere they expect to fill. Good leaders know that the development of positive and efficient leadership qualities is a pursuit worthy of a lifetime's effort.

Leadership has the potential to influence life-or-death situations. Not many of us would be willing to leave such decisions to inexperienced members of our units. We want these decisions, when they have to be made, to come from someone who has experience. This, among other reasons, is why building upon leadership qualities truly is vital to our workforce.

With that said, I believe leaders are developed. The earlier in life the development begins, the better.  Hopefully, parents are teaching children how to think rationally, act for themselves and take responsibility for their actions. The reality is, however, that the earliest we are likely to have an opportunity to start developing leaders is after they have joined our organization, whether as military members or civilian employees.

It is incumbent upon everyone, but especially supervisors, to start leadership development of subordinates as soon as possible and, most importantly, to encourage them to start and continue their own study of becoming the leader they want to be early in their careers.

My first supervisor at my first assignment at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, did this for me. I had a lot of good supervisors, but Buck Sergeant Douglas Manlove set the standard.

At our first meeting, Sergeant Manlove handed me one of the small military-issued green notebooks and provided explicit instructions for its use:

"It is NOT for Hearts, Spades or any other games."

This notebook was for two distinct purposes: 1) The front was to keep notes on the things that would go into that year's performance report. 2) The back two pages were for keeping notes, without names, of specific leadership qualities I witnessed - one page for positive examples I wanted to develop and emulate and one page for examples I wanted to avoid.

Every few weeks we would review what had been noted.

We would discuss what it was going to take to have a well-rounded performance report, and then he always took the time to discuss how to strengthen the leadership traits I wanted to develop and how to recognize some of the pitfalls that might lead to those things I wanted to avoid. He firmly believed everyone had something positive to teach me, even if it was only that I did not want to develop a negative trait.

The last thing he encouraged was to never pass up an opportunity to learn, no matter how uncomfortable it may be at the time.

He told me, the only way to get comfortable with the difficult is to do it.

Although it was 28 years ago and Sgt. Manlove was my supervisor for less than 18 months, he established a habit that continues to this day.

I do not know if I am or will ever become a "good" leader, but I know as long as I live, I will never stop observing others and striving to be better today than I was yesterday.

Each of us must share with others the need to learn from our observations of the leaders around us and to take every opportunity to acquire experience.