Ownership, Unpopularity and Benevolence

  • Published
  • By Col. Mark Kelly
  • 4th Fighter Wing commander
Young parents quickly learn that they must be willing to sacrifice their short-term popularity if they're going to raise their children to be responsible, productive adults. Assertive parental engagement is often unpopular and uncomfortable but is usually the most benevolent course a parent can take.
Military Leadership is often similar to assertive parental leadership. To ensure we provide our Airmen with the benevolent leadership that they truly deserve, we must:
 Take ownership of every Airman, not just those in our immediate leadership chain.
 Care more that our Airmen succeed than we do about our individual popularity.
 Be willing to endure uncomfortable/awkward engagement to correct substandard performance or situations on the spot.

An Airman that serves in another squadron is still "your Airman." It may or may not be acceptable to discipline someone else's children, but Airmen aren't children. They wear your uniform, they impact your mission and they represent your base, your service and your nation. So you are vested in every single one of them.

Principle over popularity can be summed up in two words: Abraham Lincoln. While President Lincoln is revered today, his popularity during his presidency, and most notably during the Civil War, was one of the lowest in history. There was public outcry and rioting over the draft and the horrific losses in life and property. But it is hard to imagine what the United States would be like today without the unpopular decisions he made. Luckily, he valued the nation more than himself. Your Airmen deserve that same sort of commitment; the ability to sacrifice your popularity for the greater good and for their success.

Correcting sub-standard situations or sub-standard personal performance is essential to our success. The problem is, however, that it's not very comfortable personal engagement. In fact, it's downright awkward. Yet, if someone is looking for the fastest, most reliable way to establish a new, lower standard of performance, the answer is easy; create a culture where members routinely walk past obviously sub-standard situations.

They're your Airmen. They deserve your unpopular, uncomfortable and benevolent leadership.