How to become a better leader without reading 10 leadership books

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SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C.—We talk a lot about leadership in the Air Force, but what can our young Airmen do on a daily basis to work toward becoming a better leader without having to read a library of leadership books? Consult the Google, of course!

If you search for definitions of what it means to be a leader, you’ll stumble on many words like: authority, guide, direct, manage, influence, and clout.

Some people may define a good leader as someone who is able to “influence people to do what you want.” What’s interesting is that if you put the phrase in quotes into the Google, the first thing that spits out is all about relationship building. It’s not about authority.

John Maxwell would equate authority with the first, and lowest, level of his five levels of leadership. On this level, people do what you want only because of your position.

Maxwell and Dale Carnegie, the author of “How to Win Friends and Influence People” both agree with the Google that you cannot become a better leader without focusing on the people.

Colin Powell put it this way, “Leadership is all about the people. It is not about organizations. It is not about plans. It is not about strategies. It is all about people-motivating people to get the job done. You have to be people-centered.”

So how do you become people-centered? Ask them. Dale Carnegie’s book can be boiled down to these points:

1) Show genuine interest in others

2) Remember people’s names

3) Listen

4) Sincerely make someone feel important

5) Smile

You can’t be a people-centered leader if you don’t talk to your people, sincerely listen to them, treat them with respect, and truly care for them. For me, it comes down to one of my own guiding principles, “It’s not about me.”

Col. Daniel Lasica, 20th Fighter Wing commander, discusses it at times when he talks about servant based leadership. The Air Force covers it with the Core Value of “service before self.”

If you are a self-centered leader, your Airmen will recognize it, and you’ll wallow in Maxwell’s lowest tier of leadership. So our youngest Airmen can work to become better leaders by doing something they learned in basic training – serve others as you serve our nation. It’s not about you.