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How leaders operate as elevators

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. John Evalle
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing command chief
At a recent retirement for Master Sgt. Jerry South, former Airmen Leadership School commandant, he used the word "Ignite" as an acronym to help leaders remember his leadership philosophy. South's words were definitely inspiring, but I would like to add one specific word I think describes great leaders: Elevators.

Great leaders are truly inspiring and motivating, but the best leaders also understand their role in deliberately developing future leaders. That role as an elevator of subordinates is key to creating a legacy and long-term success of an organization. As a leader you should see yourself as an elevator of Airmen similar to an old fashioned elevator operator that lifts people to higher levels of a building. You develop and prepare members to reach higher levels of the organization. So how are your elevator operator skills?

Every week, Col. Dwight Sones, 60th Air Mobility Wing commander, tells each group of newcomers about expectations of them as they join the Travis family. In multiple ways, a recurring theme is an expectation to elevate yourself, your unit and all Airmen around you to higher levels of professional and personal success. A few themes discussed with newcomers include re-enforcing service before self, setting the bar high, leaving it better than you found it, having a positive attitude and our priority of developing Airmen. All of these expectations add to your skills as an elevator operator.

The best way to think of your elevator operator role is by comparing it to being a parent. Steve Farber details in his book, "Greater than Yourself," a leadership philosophy I'll call the parental instinct, in which truly inspiring leaders are devoted to their subordinate's development. It's the same way a parent wants to elevate their children to greater levels of success in their life than the parents achieved themselves. Nurturing parents want their children to enjoy higher levels of success. Like parents, inspirational leaders earnestly invest in their people far beyond the typical duties of employers that solely focus on the execution of a member's duties. These leaders make personal connections with their people in a genuine way that demonstrates their caring interest in the member's personal and professional development.

You can be an inspiring elevator operator by getting to know your people. Regularly ask about their families, goals and plans for the future. Be a good listener and ensure you give people your full attention in conversation. People are attracted to people who enjoy life. People will be drawn to you simply by being friendly, consistently upbeat and confident in your actions. People are attracted to these elevator operators because they have a history of elevating and developing those around them as future leaders.

Everyone wants to get into their elevators. Members are loyal to these leaders because of the personal connections they made. They are internally motivated to do their very best by these leaders who have personally invested in them.

Like South, Airmen want to work for these inspiring leaders. South was a great elevator operator; a leader that elevated all those around him and who had a tremendous positive impact on his co-workers and the Air Force.