BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
The position of a leader is essentially going to be a part of every aspect of your life. If you think long and hard, you are a leader to someone. Whether you are a commander, supervisor, father, mother, brother or a sister, you are an example and that makes you a leader in someone’s eyes.
The question that is repeatedly asked is who or what makes a leader. My answer is simple; it is in everyone. We all aspire to lead others and we each have our own distinct leadership qualities. A better question that should be asked is, where do our leadership traits come from?
I relate leadership traits to the social behavior of animals, but not just any animal. I relate our leadership traits to the wolf pack. Everyone has heard of how wolves run in packs, but do you know why? It is because the leader of the pack guides the rest of the wolves to a common goal.
What is fascinating about the wolf pack is their social hierarchy; the alpha and beta structure. The beta wolf follows the alpha wolf because of the beta’s great confidence in the alpha’s experience and wisdom. There is a reciprocated trust between the alphas and the betas, and this trust solidifies the pack. One can find a lot of similarities and lessons from the idea of the wolf pack to the way we can lead from supervisor to subordinate.
My first duty location was Osan Air Base, South Korea. I can remember being excited and scared at the same time because I had never traveled so far from home before. My initial assumption was that this would be a long and lonely journey.
Upon arrival, I was assigned to work in the passenger terminal as a passenger service agent. As a new passenger service agent, there were times when my knowledge and response to customers was challenged and I needed someone else to reassure the customer that what I was telling them was accurate. During these instances, with my frustrations apparent, my supervisor would step in to back me up and to provide that extra reassurance that what I was passing along to the customers was correct.
This support helped me to believe that my supervisor was there to mentor and help me, which made all the difference in my experience. My supervisor had taken on the alpha role, providing guidance and giving me a new perspective on leadership. This inspired me to want to do the same. It was this experience, and numerous others that followed suit that changed my feelings on Korea being a lonely tour. This assignment turned into a strong companionship with my entire team, as my leadership and unit ensured I was part of the team.
I carried these leadership lessons from Korea, and was able to fully apply them when I was promoted to staff sergeant and assigned four Airmen to supervise. As a leader, I knew how important it was to take care of them first, to mold and grow them into future leaders. My strategy was to attentively listen to what they wished to get out of their careers, and challenge them to reach their goals.
I wanted to ensure that each Airman was given the tools to reach their potential and accomplish their personal goals. One of my Airmen wanted to become a teacher, so I challenged him to instruct a Wingman Day for our shop. From beginning to end of the project, I was there to ensure that I provided him with the support needed. My intention was to help lead him towards the career he wanted to pursue while enabling him to get valuable experience in front of his peers.
After the instruction, he came to me, and thanked me for the opportunity to instruct his fellow Airmen and reiterated that he still wanted to explore being a teacher. The message to my Airmen was well received with my intent to show them that I did listen to what was most important to them, that I had their best interests in mind, and I was there for each of them to provide necessary guidance and direction. It was at this time in my Air Force career that I realized that I had become the leader of my pack.
Wolves determine a leader of the pack by selecting a wolf who they deem to be the strongest and wisest. The chosen wolf still has to prove to the pack that he/she can lead, and must work to gain the trust of the pack in order to be deemed the alpha.
We also choose who we want to lead, just like the structure of the wolf pack. We base respect, trust and experience as main attributes that a leader must possess in order to have followers. In my example, my Airmen chose to be part of the pack when they realized they could trust me as a leader. My Airmen didn’t have to follow my lead, but chose to because they recognized that I was invested in their growth and motivated to see them reach their potential.
As you might suspect, my favorite animal is the wolf, and it was a great honor to be the leader of the pack. However, this does not mean that I have reached the pinnacle of my leadership journey. My first child, a son, was born recently. My goal is to be his role model, and to ultimately, instill in him the lessons that can be learned from the wolf pack; taking care of the needs of those you lead and giving them time to choose you as their leader through the kind of leadership you exemplify.
If you are to take anything away from this article it should be this, anyone can be a leader but a leader is someone whom others voluntarily want to follow. You must strive to be a great leader and have others choose to follow your lead, in order to have your own successful wolf pack.