For many years, my closest friends and I have discussed what it means to truly be a leader. A leader who others will follow without doubt and without fear. We came to the conclusion years ago as we began our journey as Air Force supervisors and leaders that leadership is developed by two things. First is how much you care, I mean “really” care about those you lead. Do you spend time getting to know them as a person? What drives them? Their story?How about their aspirations in life? Pr their hopes for the future? The second aspect of leadership is character. Character is essential and vital to your success as a leader. Your character is forged through your experiences in life. Your trials test your mettle and build your character as a person. When you are battle tested as a leader and remain steadfast, strong of character and focused on the team you cement your character. The late and legendary Coach John Wooden said it best:
“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
I’ve had this quote on my desk for years along with Coach Wooden’s book and I’ve often gone to his wisdom when I’m facing tough moments as a leader. By now, I’ve probably given 15 or so copies of his book to people. Recently one of my Sergeants sent me a thank you text for an act of care I gave him and his family. I honestly didn’t think much of the act of kindness since it’s something I’ve done for years for my troops as their leader. But this particular thank you resonated and reminded me of the time when my leaders cared and showed it through their Care-acter. I had just given birth to my first child and within minutes of giving birth my cell phone started ringing one after another. My family, my close friends all called. A few hours later, I received a call from my Lieutenant and his wife Michelle. They were the only leaders in my chain to call and congratulate us on the birth of our son. What’s more, is they came to the hospital held my newborn son and even coordinated a few meals for us. Their character showed us how much they cared and hence my term for leaders like Lt Small “care-acter” was born. The people you are charged with leading (whether you are a military leader, executive, manager or first line supervisor) need to feel that you care. When you care for them they will be loyal to you, loyal to your vision, loyal to your brand and will even one day return the care to you when you need it. Some of my best and brightest Air Force protégés have succeeded beyond my wildest expectations and now as I prepare to retire and start a new career, one by one they are helping me along my new journey. I’m blessed to be receiving the care-acter back from them that I once gave to them as their leader and for that I am forever grateful.