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Leadership - it's not rocket science, it's harder

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Aaron D. Burgstein
  • 1st Combat Camera Squadron commander / Published June 04, 2012
Editors Note: On Jan. 27, 2015, the Air Force Public Affairs family lost one of its own, Col. Aaron Burgstein, a former 1st Combat Camera Squadron commander, to a hard fought battle with cancer. In memory of Col. Burgstein, we are re-running his commentary about leadership, as he was the ultimate leader. 

 "It's not rocket science!" How often do we hear that about something? It's a pretty common phrase to indicate that something is not as difficult as you may think. While I am willing to bet that rocket science is difficult, I am positive that leadership is not easy.
Yep, leadership is certainly not rocket science. It can be harder.

Most sciences have rules, equations and formulas that will either work or won't work. Leadership? Not so much. Sure, there are literally thousands of books out there on how to lead. Even Attila the Hun has a book on leadership, but it is not the kind of science that has a right and a wrong answer. One cannot read a book and suddenly become a good leader.

So what does go into making a good leader?

While some think leadership is about rank or position, leadership is actually about leading. I once read that leadership is the art of influencing people to do something. That is because it is about the people. It is not about managing. Managing is about things. Leadership is about people.

Leaders can be found in all ranks and positions. As Simon Sinek, a leadership guru, points out "... there are leaders and there are those who lead. Leaders hold a position of power or authority. But those who lead inspire us."

So, how do leaders inspire? They care. They care about their mission. They care about their people. They artfully combine those two main points to create an environment where Airmen flourish, the mission is accomplished and sometimes people even enjoy coming in to work.

The most important thing a leader can do for his or her Airmen is to give them time. Time to get to know them, their goals, their motivation and their challenges. They take the time to talk to their Airmen about their future. They take the time to help their Airmen when they are in need. A good leader makes the Airmen their top priority. When you talk to that Airman across from you, be sure that they know that their issues are one of your top priorities.

Luckily, the Air Force will give you plenty of opportunities to learn about leadership and practice it as well, because it is something you have to practice - a lot. Moreover, leadership is about caring. Leaders care - they care about their mission and they care about their people. And the really good ones even find time to care about themselves.
When you lead your Airmen, by taking care of them, ensuring they have what they need, when they need it, your Airmen will flourish. When your Airmen flourish, the mission is accomplished - and usually accomplished with less fuss, faster and in better spirits.

At the same time, it is important to take care of yourself as well. Leaders lead from the front. They demonstrate the actions they want accomplished - and taking care of oneself, mentally, physically and morally is just as important as anything else.

Rockets have a team of people to take care of them. So do our Airmen. By practicing the art of leadership, you are one part of that team.