Applied Leadership Philosophy Examples

DeM Banter:  These are examples of Leadership Philosophies collected and combined from several over a period of time.  These are examples only–please feel free to use as examples in order to frame your own–but your own leadership philosophy can only come from your own experiences and who you are… not from others. Footnotes and sourcing have been removed as well as the interview portion  (on most)


Throughout this course I’ve been able to polish aspects of command that come naturally to me, but has also revealed some weaknesses and even legal ramifications of things I was taught earlier in my career that would not bode well in the kindler, gentler Air Force of today. While philosophizing my approach to command I focused on the theory that it is the canvas to my work of art, I keep on point using a visual representation that is, perhaps, a bit removed from mainstream. A envision a caricature of myself with big ears, an embellished smile, broad shoulders above a slender waist, and a well-worked hand pointing to a quote “you can tell the size of a man by the size of the thing that makes him mad.” That, to my visual-learning self, encompasses my approach to command. Each part representing emotionally meaningful maxims that have shaped what I value and how I act.

The caricature itself is, of course, ridiculous looking and reminds me not to take myself too serious during the day-to-day operations. I think a work environment that allows people to smile and laugh creates camaraderie and long-term benefits. Coupled with the over-exaggerated, contagious smile is an approach to leadership that keeps me upbeat while at work and helps others feel at ease.

My exceedingly broad shoulders represent a strong devotion I have to bear the weight of the problems of my unit so the individual member does not have to. Every one of my mentors, or previous commanders that I have respected, have all had a way to keep most outside minutia out of the way of allowing airmen to get the mission done. My experience as a subordinate to leaders who have cleared a path for me to do my job has instilled the desire to do the same for my future subordinates and peers alike.

The overly slender waist not only represents the [over] emphasis on today’s fit-to-fight Air Force, but also reminds me not to get physically lazy and that high expectations of myself and of my peers, subordinates and upper echelon can be anticipated. Appropriately, the well-worked hand pointing to the quote is simply that of the respect I have developed for those who put in work – the real, tangible labor – to get the job done. Underscoring the determination and will it takes to get the job done as close to perfection as possible the first time. Self-reflection has that registered both a benefit and a shortcoming as when is “good enough” actually good enough? The calloused hands also shows the approach to leadership that I respect as we’ve learned command theory is nice, application is where you have an impact on the world around you. Direct, proactive, hands-on approach to leadership is a philosophical key to my command.

The big ears in my command caricature are undoubtedly the crux of my command philosophy. They remind me to listen, to quietly analyze, and to ask questions that show mutual respect for recipient no matter what rank they are or job they perform. Self-reflection has taught me that while I certainly do not know all of the answers I am keenly aware of good ideas when I hear them. These answers could come from every stratum of Airman.

Major Edward Conner

What is leadership? Peter Drucker famously stated that “management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Great leaders possess dazzling social intelligence, a zest for change, and above all, vision that allows them to set their sights on the “things” that truly merit attention. Over the course of my career, I have had the opportunity to serve with a myriad of leaders both outstanding and others who could use some work. What I noticed with the outstanding leaders was their inner drive to always improve and was not afraid of making mistakes. Daniel Goleman describes this as “emotional intelligence”, found in these characteristics are leadership qualities that call one into a deep sense of awareness including “emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs, and drives.”

As I mentioned earlier, I grew up working on a farm and this is where I learned my work ethic and also many great management/leadership principles. I try to keep this simple and easy to remember but also something that has substance and value to those with whom I am entrusted to lead/supervise. Having the ability to keep your workspace (wherever it may be) fun with a sense of ownership and pride is key in my opinion to getting the most from your personnel.

The acronym FARM stands for Fun, Accountable, Respectful, and Mentor. I will briefly describe what each of these principles mean to me and my leadership philosophy:
Fun – As a leader you need to set a good command climate. It is my personal belief that individuals who enjoy what they are doing will be far more productive than those who dread the thought of going to work. As a leader you need to be the example of making the workplace an enjoyable place.
Accountable – As a leader you need to be able to hold your personnel accountable as well as being held accountable. When we hold each other accountable for our actions and our decisions we can focus on behaviors and not personality traits. As a leader it is important to take ownership and be accountable at all times for what happens in your command.
Respectful – This is another principle that needs to work both ways. As a leader your personnel need to feel respected and understand that their opinions matter. Good ideas will generally come from all ranks, it is important to have a climate of respect within your command.
Mentor – Mentorship of junior personnel is the key to developing strong effective leaders of the future. I have had the opportunity to work for great leaders who took the time out of their day to mentor me on various subjects and also corrected me when I was wrong. Being an effective mentor is more than just sitting down with your personnel once or twice a year for the yearly reviews, it is having the trust for someone to talk about issues whenever they arise…having a true “open door” policy.

LCDR David Rodebush

In my experience, leadership brings immense challenges. In the words of Publilius Syrus, “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.”1 To better prepare for the rough seas of leadership, I have developed my own leadership philosophy: People: aligned with purpose – connected by integrity. This credo organizes my thoughts on what a leader should strive to influence and how I aspire to lead. As I will explain further, my leadership philosophy emerges from several sources. Then, after describing a fellow officer’s particular leadership challenge, I will analyze how I would have handled the same situation, given my philosophy.

My leadership philosophy began to take shape as a follower, even before taking on leadership roles. I typically carry out tasks out with a desire to achieve a larger purpose, and without a sense of that purpose, I experience frustration. When I am asked to work on a task, I am more motivated when I understand why the work matters. With that information, I can make better decisions on how to go about my work and how to prioritize between tasks. Also, I can more easily cooperate with other team members when all of us understand our common purpose. Too often, however, my leaders have not provided a clear and unifying purpose. As leaders, we need to provide a sense of mission that motivates and aligns members across the organization toward an ultimate goal. Methods to consider include communicating the mission clearly and consistently, measuring the right impacts, and shaping processes to produce the desired purpose.

This belief in centrality of purpose and mission is shared by several experienced leaders. According to one Squadron Commander, Shannon Smith, the best leaders focus on the mission.2 Author John C. Maxwell explains that a key to leadership is “the ability to work toward a stated goal.”3 The Army’s foundational doctrine on mission command presents several leadership principles, two of which are provide a clear commander’s intent and create shared understanding within the unit and among partners. A shared understanding of purpose and mission aligns team members in order to accomplish a desired goal.

The other component of my leadership philosophy, connected by integrity, presents the desired state for how team members are connected to their leader, to each other, and with external partners. Integrity is not just an ethical principle. Rather, it is a force for effective interaction between human beings. Leaders should exemplify integrity, they should hold others accountable to have integrity, and they should influence others to grow in how they apply integrity. Furthermore, integrity undergirds the accountability that drives performance. This connection between integrity and performance is often overlooked.

For example, consider the case where a supervisor requests a subordinate to accomplish a critical task. If the task needs to be done in a particular way by a particular date, the supervisor should obtain that commitment at the time of tasking. If the subordinate has integrity, he will accomplish the task as agreed to, or he will notify the supervisor as soon as he realizes that his commitment cannot be met. In such a case where the agreed suspense needs to be changed, the supervisor has the ability respond to the changing circumstances as soon as being notified. Accountability, trust, and integrity are maintained throughout this entire situation. On the other hand, if the subordinate lacks integrity, the supervisor might not find out about problems until the suspense is busted, hindering a response. Broken agreements left unrepaired and lack of accountability can encourage further lapses by the team in keeping commitments.5 Thus, accountability and integrity throughout the organization can be powerful factors in its performance.

A team in which members are connected by integrity also benefits in many other ways. Integrity promotes trust, mutual respect, ethical behavior, and individual dignity. Integrity promotes effective communication across a team and exposes disagreements that may point to underlying issues needing resolution. However, while many may agree on the importance of integrity, one may also ask whether a leader can fundamentally influence a person’s sense of integrity. My approach to this practical question includes holding people accountable to their commitments; promoting integrity as a core value; encouraging clear, effective agreements and corresponding accountability measures; and striving to act with integrity at all times.

While I have explained the tenets of aligned with purpose and connected by integrity, the first word in my credo, and the starting place, is people. The individuals I work with – subordinates, peers, and superiors – are where my leadership efforts will have their direct and primary impact. I exert effort in order to influence people. While I am a task-oriented individual, my leadership philosophy ensures that I do not focus on mission tasks without considering the human dimensions, as sometimes the mission and people aspects present conflicting demands.

Capt Aaron Quinn


Leadership and command are two things that are very difficult to explain. According to Christopher Kolenda, leadership does not conform snugly into diagrams, models, and flow charts. Similarly, leadership does not fit neatly into the straitjacket of a single personal experience, theory, or historical study.” The purpose of this paper is to describe my leadership philosophy of fostering happy workers to create an effective unit, to discuss an issue regarding how a toxic contracting officer affected a source selection team, and how striving to create an effective unit is directly correlated to the happiness of the workers. Doing the right thing is not always easy, but making every effort to show empathy and compassion and striving for happy workers will get an organization to get the mission done.

My leadership philosophy relates to the very core of my value system; happy workers lead to an effective unit. Each person defines their happiness differently, but you’ll find that there is always a balance involved.  Sure it is easy to say that working hard toward the mission is important, but eventually even the most motivated person gets drained if that is all they do. Here is how I define my balance. If you imagine a table, typically the sturdiest table has four legs of equal length and strength.  We can apply this metaphor to balance in our own lives.  The four legs of my table are work, family, self, and spiritual beliefs.  As long as I find time for each of these, then I am overall happy and my effectiveness is high.  It is important not to neglect any of these areas, because during times when our lives are pulled out of balance due to one of the legs requiring more focus (for example, a family emergency or a deployment), we have the support of the other legs to get us through. Often times we put ourselves last and take care of all the other legs, but each leg needs equal attention to keep our lives in balance.

There are key traits which enable us to be successful in achieving our balance. I will focus here on the key traits which relate to leadership, but these traits can be used for all the legs of the table. First, I believe that the most important leadership traits are empathy and compassion. In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care .” Mr. Larry Spears stated that the most successful leaders are those who have become empathetic listeners. Understanding how actions as a commander influence and affect those in the unit is critical to effective leadership. Having empathy and compassion allows us to better care for our people. Lt Col Matt Joganich said it best, “Make sure you take care of your people. If you do that, they‘ll take care of you.”

Another important leadership trait is communication. Col Horton described how regularly communicating both the mission and vision keeps everyone focused. A commander who works behind the desk all day is not engaged with the people of the unit. Accomplishing communication face-to-face rather than in writing allows the commander to be visible. Communication also involves allowing adequate time to listen. Receptive listening encourages subordinates to keep lines of communication open since they know they will be heard.  If the leader sets the example in communication as well as with other things, the entire unit will follow suit. The biggest complaint that Christine Zust found was that “many leaders don’t provide a positive example for others to follow.”

Capt Lady Noreen S. Simmons


A leadership philosophy can be thousands of pages long, full of theories, diagrams, experiences, and include an endless list of considerations.  What intrigued me most about this assignment is the idea that an individual’s philosophy can be summed up into a single statement.  According to the Harvard Business Review, this statement should be eight words and follow the following format: “Verb, target, outcome.”[i]  I found this intriguing because it shed light on something that our wing commander said during his initial commander’s call almost two years ago.  When asked what he does, he apparently replies, “I bend history to the side of justice.”  I’m not sure why, maybe it’s because it had enough of that “Lady Gaga” element to it, but this resonated with me.  Who says that?  It sounded like something out of a comic book – larger than life and definitely different.  In thinking about what my own statement should be, I wanted something that could be universal in application – a statement that would guide me in new and foggy situations alike.  However, I cannot help but think about a scene from Forest Gump, when asked, “GUMP!  What’s your sole purpose in this Army?  He replies, “To do whatever you tell me Drill Sergeant?”  I love that reply because it reminds me that I am not exactly the sole author of my own destiny – that success is a team sport.  My opinions about the future of my unit are relevant only insofar as they align with the vision of my commander, which must align with his/her commander, and so on.  The original direction or strategy starts with our civilian leadership.  By the time it gets to me, it’s been interpreted, diluted, misconstrued, or possibly rendered unrecognizable.  There must be an element of faith involved at every step.  Regardless, it is important to remember that individuals matter and we make a difference every day.  To help me usher my team to achieve greatness, my personal leadership statement shall be, “Establish target clarity, converge resources, change the world.”

Anytime I’m faced with a leadership opportunity, if I establish target clarity first, then I am essentially setting the vision.  As Lewis Carroll said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”  In other words, as a team, we will be lost.  Our squadron used to have a simple philosophy, “All In, All the Time.”  This provided the “north star” or daily direction needed to remind us of our commitment.[ii]  For example, whenever the unspoken counter presented itself, “That’s not my job,” recognizing that this went against the “All In” mentality would help individuals overcome.  Next, converging resources is essential because once the direction is set, setting people loose may be tempting (I am empowering my team), but based on my own experiences, such a “fire and forget” concept rarely applies to individuals.  Teams and individuals, working in parallel, do best when leadership ensures that their efforts intersect and are not wasted.  “You need to bring together all of your talents, gifts, passions, intellect, energy, time, and resources and harness them in such a way that you focus on the mission.”[iii]  This requires over-communication, not micro-management.  Finally, changing the world is about going big every day.  If we allow administrative, bureaucratic nonsense to distract us from our goals, then our enemies win.  If we allow the media or low morale to make us second guess our mission, our resolve, or our professionalism, then we have failed.  Changing the world is about being the experts, challenging the status quo, streamlining processes, and making ourselves precise and efficient warriors ready to engage in the next war.  Since a lot of my professional growth is based on mentorship from my squadron commander, his responses to my interview questions echoed many of these same ideals.

While discussing the notion of short, personal, mission or philosophy statements, he concurred with the power of paring things down.  “Slogans, mottos, and ethos are a very strange thing.  While they are literally no more than a few words, they can define your character, and even inspire large groups of people to adapt a culture…all in a few words.  The essential parts of good leadership are vision, resource management and prioritization, and action/results.”  When asked what his statement was, it was something like, “strategic vision to precision execution with an action oriented and results focused mentality.”  I was there during our squadron stand-up where he took command and I was there during his change of command.  I saw many of the challenges that he faced first hand.  During the interview, I asked him what his greatest challenge was as a commander.  “I think my greatest challenge was setting/communicating a somewhat radical vision, dealing with the full spectrum of “human issues” in establishing a new paradigm and culture, and ensuring that it was lasting.  The pressure of the timeline (requirements), the people and assets available (resources), and need to execute towards the purpose (risk) were the 3Rs that I always had in my focus to find the appropriate balance.”  He is the type of commander that you either love or hate, but no matter who you talk to, there is always a story.  Similar to the Apple ad, “You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.  About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.”  He had a lot of fans and a lot of critics, which meant we had a lot of fans/critics.  On criticism, “Oh yes, I took some shots, but like Tony Montano in the last scene of SCARFACE… I took the shots and moved forward.  Except I didn’t die.  Both me and the unit accepted, reflected, adapted and usually came out better, far better than had we not faced adversity and criticism.  It is always important to realize that ‘a stone sharpens the sword.’”  As our commander, he often talked about going through crucibles in life – trials to separate the strong from the weak in which the strong come out stronger.  What would he have changed?  “In the end, one thing I would have changed… I would have said “I am the CC, I have decided, STFU and execute!!”  In the interest of trying to gain insight, have inclusion, collaboration, and cohesion, we ended up rehashing some of the same arguments several times which was positive in some respects, but many times it just caused angst and confusion.  I had all of the information, had made my decision, and wasn’t going to change without a new reason which we didn’t have.  I should have just said “noted, decided, done” and saved both time and pain.  Like one of my previous bosses said in his mentorship to me…”you are alone in charge, your knowledge and instincts are usually right, and you don’t owe anything to anyone except a full faith effort to do what is in the best interest of everyone personally, professionally, and organizationally… even if they hate you for it.”[iv]  In a sense, this points back to his greatest challenge as a commander.  Specifically, we had scheduling rules that were unpopular, but were designed to mitigate risk.  We rehashed whether or not certain rules made sense.  For instance, while standing up the unit, there would be no back-to-back flying for any individual (period).  We were building a squadron and building our own experience in a new airframe simultaneously – with just a handful of personnel.  Back-to-back flying meant consecutive days out of the office and with shops only one-man deep, that meant possibly falling behind on building the necessary programs for a next generation FTU.  However, every flyer wants to fly and there were many that considered building experience in the aircraft to be paramount.  Many felt hamstringed.  The fact that it kept coming up as debatable made matters worse.  In the end, the commander never budged.  Not only did we beat every timeline in standing up our unit, but we did not have a single blemish on our safety record.

How should a commander reconcile the need to collaborate with the need to be decisive?  By making ‘vision’ the first step in the process – establish target clarity.  Once the target is set or the vision established, a leader has to stick with his decisions.  The hardest thing for some leaders is to just make a decision.  To me, this is a core requirement for any potential Aircraft Commander.  Can he/she make a decision and execute?  Putting things up for debate is sometimes beneficial, but when the time comes to make a decision, a leader must trust himself or herself, make the call, and run with it by taking it to a logical end.  As General Patton said, “A good solution applied with vigor now is better than a perfect solution applied ten minutes later.”[v]  The so-called perfect solution is for historians to figure out.  In the moment, while operating on the stage of command, people need a decision – now.  Further, second-guessing the plan after the decision has been made just undermines the endeavor.  In one of our earlier readings, General Taylor talked about the integrity and fearlessness of General Marshall whom after a difficult decision, would fold his arms saying, “Well, let the chips fall where they may.”[vi]  If leaders decide, then rehash the same information or ask for inputs after the fact, the decision loses its focus.  This is why target clarity is so important.  No matter the variables, the fog or friction involved in the decision making process, as a leader I must pick a direction and go.  Once the target is established, the target must be communicated, and we must execute without fear.  Steadfast conviction will ensure that the right message is received daily – loud and clear.

In the end, my leadership philosophy is simple.  By boiling it down to only eight words, my personal statement should help guide me in the future.  Exploring the lesson materials and taking the time to interview my squadron commander was extremely worthwhile.  Sometimes it is easy to forget that the people leading us today are still actively learning about their own leadership and ultimately about themselves.  Leadership is a huge subject with a lifetime of books written on it, but for me, it is: “Establish target clarity, converge resources, change the world.”

-John Huntsman

[i] Eric Hellweg, “The Eight-Word Mission Statement,”

[ii] Col J. William DeMarco, “Leadership Philosophy 101: Who Are You?”

[iii] Erwin Raphael McManus, Wide Awake: The Future is Waiting Within You, (New York, Thomas Nelson Inc, 2008), 141.

[iv] Interview with squadron commander from Kirtland AFB, NM, 28 January 2014.

[v] General George S. Patton, Jr. Quotations.

[vi] Taylor, Gen Maxwell D. “Military Leadership: What Is It? Can It Be Taught?”‖In AU-24 Concepts for Air Force Leadership, edited by Dr. Richard I. Lester and Dr. A. Glenn Morton, 423-426, Maxwell AFB, AL: Air Universiy Press, 2001.


Leadership to me is like a building, always requiring attention, maintenance and even sometimes a little modification.  But each of us has within ourselves an individual leadership/command philosophy that is the foundation on which our leadership style is built.  These values are associated with the individual’s faith, principles, and life experience, but ideal leaders also required to have qualities beyond those of just a competent professional. The following pages will address my own leadership philosophy, summarize a leadership interview I had with a military squadron commander, and then analyze that interview within the context of my own leadership philosophy.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower once stated, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” This quote by the former President and Supreme Allied Commander forms the foundation of my leadership/command philosophy, which is that leadership starts with the commander’s ability to lead their subordinates, not by intimidation, but a common desire to fulfill the mission. My leadership command philosophy derives from the Masonic teachings that have been passed down within my family, a moral code founded on the highest standards of ethics, honesty, and strength of character regardless of race, religion, or creed.  By gaining a subordinate’s respect for not only the position of Commander, but also the person sitting in the chair, increases the effectiveness of not only the Commander tremendously but that of the unit as well.  But how is this respect for the person earned?  By adhering to the principles of COPS (Communicating, Observing, Planning, and Setting the example).

First, communication and observing go hand in hand in the leadership principle.  To have good communication, the lines of communication need to be open and flow in all directions and must also be seen within the context of the observation to get a full appreciation of the true nature of the communication. With the knowledge gained while in the communication and observations stage, the planning stage is used to develop and implement plans, procedures and policies for squadron mission success.  During this phase the leader should carefully assess the organizations culture and weigh any proposed initiative against the likely cultural response of the team. Planning should occur once the new commander has sense of where the squadron has been and where it need to go in order to accomplish the squadrons mission.  By carefully planning the commanders message on the implementation of policy, procedure, and cultural changes within the squadron the outcome of these actions maybe more positively accepted by the squadron members.

Finally, the most important aspect of command, “BE THE EXAMPLE”!  Remember, all eyes are on the commander.  Some may think that a triple S is for staff summary sheet, but for my command philosophy it stands for: Set the expectations, Set the policies, and Set the example.

-Kevin Thomsen

On a hot summer day not too long ago, a Lieutenant Colonel stood alone shuffling note cards, searching for the words to address the men and women who stood before him on the occasion of his change-of-command. Less than a week before, many of these same men and women watched as one of their squadron’s aircraft crashed into the woods just a mile from the airfield. As he searched for inspiration, the Colonel turned his thoughts inward, to his values and to his faith. While not a conscious act, the Colonel’s behavior demonstrates the need for every leader to ground their behavior in a set of values, in a personal leadership philosophy to turn to in time of adversity or doubt. When I think on my own leadership philosophy, I am drawn to three words: communication, character, people. These simple words represent the beliefs and values which guide my actions as a leader and will frame my mindset as a commander.

The first tenant of my leadership philosophy (communication) involves expectations, open dialogue (up and down the chain of command), and honest feedback. In my mind, one of the most important steps in a commander’s tenure is clearly outlining expectations—what members can expect from the leader, and what the leader expects of them. Good leaders also foster an environment where open discussions and dissenting opinions are encouraged. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell explained, “When a captain came in to see me, I would tell the youngster to sit down. I’d say, talk to me son, what have you got? And then I’d let him argue with me. I would do everything I could to let him think he was arguing with an equal, because he knew more about the subject than I did.”  The ability to put rank (and ego) aside and listen to subordinates is an important trait in a leader, one that is essential to creating a climate of open and honest feedback.

The second tenant is character. Leaders with character stand for something, and make decisions not based on personal gain, but for the greater good. They embody the traits of honesty, humility, and credibility. Such leaders not only “tell a compelling and morally rich story, but also embody and live the story.” Leaders with character give their all, and inspire those around them to do the same. As General Powell once observed, “You can issue call the memos and give all the motivational speeches you want, but if the rest of the people in your organization don’t see you putting forth your best effort every single day, they won’t either.”

The final and most important tenant of my leadership philosophy is people. As a leader, my first duty is to those under my command, my task to do all that I can to make their jobs easier. To support your people, you have to understand them, their problems, and their challenges  in order to gain and keep their trust. During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln relieved General John C. Fremont from his command of the Department of the West because he lost the confidence of the men near him. According to Lincoln, Fremont’s “cardinal mistake is that he isolates himself, and allows nobody to see him; and by doing which he does not know what is going on in the very matter he is dealing with.” Leaders know their people, and do all they can to enable their success.



Before assuming a leadership position, whether as a senior commander or front line supervisor, it is imperative to take the time to develop a personal leadership philosophy.  According to Brig Gen Maureen LeBoeuf, United States Army, retired, “your personal philosophy provides a foundation for all other issues.”1  In essence, the leadership philosophy sets the baseline against what all decisions can be measured.  By being able to clearly articulate your philosophy it will help guide the men and women under your command and allow for them to know your expectations.   This paper will present three items concerning leadership philosphy.  First, it will address my personal leadership philosophy using the analogy of a grade school lunchbox.  Second, an interview with a former squadron commander is presented that discusses a significant leadership challenge that he faced early in his tenure of command.  Finally, the commander’s situation and his actions will be analyzed using my personal philosophy.

As a child growing up in the 1980s, I was exposed to some of the greatest entertainment franchises of all time such as G.I. Joe, Transformers, or Masters of the Universe.  As part of the marketing schemes, licensees plastered the franchise logos and imagery on anything and everything they could possibly make, including lunchboxes intended for grade-schoolers.  Not only did watching the teams of heroes work together to defeat the bad guys influence my desire to serve my country, but it also influenced how I view different leadership situations.  I can directly correlate elements of the typical ‘80s lunchbox to the different aspects of my leadership philosophy.

“Lunchbox leadership” as I prefer to call it, is made up of several components.  First, a leader must have a vision for his unit.  According to Brig Gen LeBoeuf, the “organizational vision must be ambitious, easily articulated, and well understood.”1   On each lunchbox I owned, the front and back of the box was adorned with a stunning image of my cartoon heroes in action.  This “vision” was displayed prominently, upfront, and impossible to miss.  Anyone seeing my lunchbox immediately knew my interests.  A leader must be able to clearly instill a vision into the team by ensuring everyone knows what he personally stands for, the unit’s mission, and their goals for success.

In addition to the stunning vision presented on the outside of the box, the material of the box is a key element to correspond with my leadership philosophy.  Whether it was the metal lunch box of the ‘70s and ‘80s, or the newly molded plastic boxes of the ‘90s, one thing is clear:  anything can break.  My favorite lunchbox was cracked during one of its first uses – but I did not cast it away.  My father repaired it, and did so in a way that the damage was only visible on the interior of the box allowing the external surface to remain unscathed.  People that work for you will make mistakes, will make bad decisions, and may not always meet your expectations.  When they do fail, figure out what happened, discuss the issue, and fix it in a way that allows them to return to the unit and continue the mission.  People need to recognize that they will not always be crucified for a failure—they must have the ability and creative freedom to take risks that could deliver new ideas to improve the unit.  We must realize that just because something breaks, it does not mean it cannot still serve its purpose.

Now, let’s take a look inside the lunchbox container. Chances are you have a Thermos inside that will keep your soup warm or your Kool-Aid refreshing during the summer.  Either way, it provides flexible options for your lunch menu.  We have all heard the clichéd (but true) phrase “flexibility is the key to airpower.”  It also applies to how you deal with people in everyday life, and that is the essence of leadership.  While standards must be applied in a uniform and unbiased fashion, a leader must recognize the importance of being flexible in their response to different situations.  This lends credibility to your actions and helps reinforce the human element of decision making.

Taking a look at what we have for lunch, most likely you’ve got a sandwich for the main course, hopefully some fruits or veggies, and maybe a cookie packed for a sweet dessert.  The sandwich represents the mission—it’s the most important aspect and what everything else is built around.  We can emphasize the importance of people, the fact that we truly care about their well-being, but at the end of the day we have to accomplish the mission.  People need to know that you will allow mistakes, allow failure in trade for creativity, but if someone proves they cannot meet the standards of the job they will be removed.  They must understand what is at stake in our profession of arms.  Our fruits and vegetables represent the health of the unit and its people. Physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually—I recognize that we must have commitment to taking care of ourselves and those around us.  The simple, yet effective, sweet snack included helps break up the monotony of the lunch and helps energize us for the challenging tasks ahead.  We must have the sweet humor to laugh at ourselves, within our workplace, and with our teammates to establish a good, professional rapport that will build the foundation of the camaraderie when the times are trying.1

Finally, at the top of our lunchbox is a simple, single handle.  We can take this lunchbox with us anywhere.  And we better be ready to – anytime.  For we are Warrior Airmen, and we must be prepared to work long hours, go TDY, and ultimately deploy to wherever our nation calls us.  Most importantly, when we travel and go to different locations we take our ‘lunchbox’ with us.  We don’t compromise or sacrifice our principles, values, or leadership philosophies when we are in a different locale.

-Steven Jordan


The military has the motto “Mission first, people always.”  Inherent in this motto is a requirement to balance mission accomplishment with taking care of the people who perform the mission.  An effective command philosophy will achieve this balance.  This paper will outline my leadership philosophy.  It will then examine one commander’s struggle to find the correct balance between mission and people, followed by an analysis of his actions through the prism of my leadership philosophy.  As will be shown through this commander’s struggle, commanders must achieve the right balance between mission and people to succeed in command.

My command philosophy can be summarized as lead by example.  Airmen should be able to look to their leader’s actions to know what is expected.  General Douglas MacArthur said it best in his “Duty, Honor, Country” speech at the U.S. Military Academy on May 12, 1962.  A leader should not “substitute words for action.” The standard set by General MacArthur with “Duty, Honor, Country” is the example that leaders should display.  “The code which these words perpetuate embraces the highest moral law and will stand the test of any ethics or philosophies ever promulgated for the things that are right, and its restraints are from the things that are wrong.”

By setting the standard and emulating expectations through my day-to-day conduct, Airmen will not have to wonder what is expected.  Having a double standard will hurt trust and loyalty in the unit.  If I say one thing but do another, I cannot effectively enforce the standards.  Under the “lead by example” philosophy, a leader should model the following standards—accountability, encouraging diversity of thought and healthy dissent, loyalty, integrity, communication, and taking care of your Airmen.

As the commander, I am accountable for my actions and those under me. When something goes badly, I must always accept responsibility.  When our unit succeeds, I will pass the praise to the Airmen.

As the commander, I will encourage diversity of thought and healthy dissent and expect those under me to do the same.6  Diversity of thought allows our organization to grow, develop, and evolve.  Towards that end, Airmen must feel freedom to express dissent and offer alternative solutions to problems.  Dissenting views enhance our ability to accomplish the mission by providing multiple viewpoints from all those invested.

Hand-in-hand with dissent is loyalty.  Once a decision is made, everyone should support that decision.8  Loyalty requires support of the decision both inside and outside the organization. Disloyalty hurts unit cohesion, morale, and trust.

Dishonesty too impairs unit cohesion, morale, and trust.  I have zero tolerance for lying.  Integrity is a fundamental character trait for everyone.10  Everyone must be candid and honest in all situations, which builds trust.  During a crisis, I must know that I am getting the full truth and nothing is being held back.

Effective communication will enhance integrity and improve unit performance.  I will keep open lines of communication with those I lead.  Communication builds trust and develops Airmen.  If there is information that will allow others to better accomplish the mission, it is best shared by all.

Lastly, leaders must take care of our Airmen and their families.12  General Colin L. Powell, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, once stated “The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them.”  I will always remember that the mission is accomplished by Airmen who are supported by their families.  If leaders don’t take care of our Airmen and their families, Airmen will not stay in the Air Force.  Taking care of Airmen means ensuring Airmen have the proper tools, resources, and training to do their job and ensuring they have the necessary resources to provide and care for their families, e.g., doctors’ appointments for sick children and spouses, so the Airman can get back to focusing on their mission.  Also, strive to understand the needs and demands of our Airmen’s personal lives at home.  However, there will be times when mission must be placed first, before an Airman’s familial obligations.  This is the difficult, yet delicate balance a commander must achieve.

– John Welsh


Leading a squadron can be a very challenging yet rewarding experience so it is imperative that I am grounded in my beliefs when taking command. In expressing my beliefs, I have developed my personal leadership philosophy which is to act courageously, treat others with dignity and respect, and lead by example. The framework of this paper has three parts. In the first part, I employ thoughtful reflection on leadership traits and theories which greatly assist with producing my personal philosophy. In the second part, I summarize an interview with a squadron commander who gives her perspectives on leadership. In the third part, I analyze this interview and discuss how it influences my personal philosophy.

The three resounding concepts of my leadership philosophy are courage, dignity and respect, and leading by example. By living, breathing, and advocating these three concepts, my goal is to inspire both my subordinates and peers. However, several important leadership traits are required in order to actualize these concepts. The first concept in my philosophy is courage. It is my belief that even though courage is not one of the Air Force core values, certain traits are required to have moral courage: being forthright, honest, selfless, and above all, maintaining integrity. There are two other types of courage, intellectual courage and physical courage. According to Christopher Kolenda, the author of Leadership: The Warrior’s Art, having Intellectual courage challenges us to experience ideas and think critically, even if these ideas are ambiguous and make us feel uncomfortable.  Having physical courage helps us to function through our fears.

The second concept, treating others with dignity and respect, comes from the old adage, “treat others as you wish to be treated.”  This belief comes from a life time of serving others. Some of the primary traits for gaining respect are trustworthiness, caring, diversity, and being equitable. Treating others with dignity requires mutual respect, humility, and letting others know their contributions are important and appreciated.

The third concept, leading by example, is not always embodied by some of the commanders I have had over the years because they did not possess the technical competence that their subordinates required in order to carry out the mission. It has been my experience that without this competence, credibility of these commanders was diluted to the point where morale tended to be lower. However, reflecting on these experiences motivate me to always lead by example. Some of the traits that I believe are important in order to lead by example are having solid technical competence, a strong sense of commitment, inspiring and motivating others, and being a mentor. Leading by example also means making a good impression in both professional and personal conduct.

To support my beliefs there are a few theoretical leadership models that also influenced the development of my personal leadership philosophy–the first being The Courageous Follower by Ira Chaleff.  Being courageous requires critical thinking skills and his five dimensions can be used as a tool for thinking through conflicts and making tough decisions. Even though his model is geared toward followership, his dimensions are applicable to being a courageous leader as well. For instance, his first dimension–“the courage to assume responsibility”–involves taking risk. Therefore as a commander, I am responsible and accountable for actions taken by my subordinates, especially if I have not given them the training and tools required to know the mission.

When it comes to treating people with dignity and respect, I find personifying the transformational leader concept the most valuable because it harnesses such attributes as respect, trust, faith, inspiring others, and coaching. A lot of behaviors in the transformational leader model are ones that I have incorporated throughout my personal, work, and military experiences, such as acting in ways that build respect, making personal sacrifices, championing change, helping others develop their strengths, and taking a stand on controversial issues, just to name a few. believe that when modeling these behaviors, gaining respect and trust comes naturally, as well as setting a good example.

Leading by example is not only a concept that I aspire to, but my hope is to motivate others to do the same, whether they be subordinates or peers. One of the more applicable theories is that of Servant Leadership developed by Robert Greenleaf. It truly speaks to the Air Force core value ‘service before self’ because serving others ensures that a leader can take good care of his or her troop.  Being a servant leader and leading by example transcends the requisite technical competence I spoke of previously. In other words, although technical competence is important, leading by example requires serving others, being accessible, and being a good role model.

-Maria Stohler


A command philosophy establishes the culture and expectations necessary to operate a cohesive and effective unit. A philosophy facilitates success by helping leadership “focus human effort in a common direction, provides rationale for allocating resources, and defines critical jobs that must be accomplished”As I have evolved within the Air Force, so has my leadership philosophy; it is interchangeable regardless if I’m filling a staff officer billet or commanding a squadron. My philosophy is augmented by three pillars that aid me in perpetuating leadership, trust, and teamwork. While command philosophies may have similar foundations, personal beliefs will cause these individual philosophies to vary widely.  Every commander employs a different style and belief system to achieve positive impact.

A philosophy is an integral piece in the commander’s tool kit that communicates standards of performance, conduct, mission readiness and welfare. No two philosophies are the same, just as no two commanders are the same. A command philosophy is traditionally developed early in one’s career and tweaked over years of practical application and experiences. In my sixteen years of service spent within the communications and cyber career field my philosophy has evolved from responsibilities and authorities given to me under U.S.C Title 10 to what it is today; preserve the family, the force and the mission. My philosophy is an accurate reflection of who I have become; it encompasses my beliefs, values, and expectations.  It is a simple message capable of being memorized, understood, and repeated by the most junior to the most senior Airman. Preserving the family, force, and mission allows me the greatest opportunity to achieve success for my unit and my chain of command.

Preserving the family, force, and mission requires an equal blend of leadership, trust, and teamwork to move a unit towards success – these three pillars create the foundation of my philosophy.  Leadership is critical in today’s military. Our force structure repeatedly does more with less, leaders are continually “given more responsibility, more authority, and will be forced to prioritize between additional personal and career factors”. As a commander, you are the responsible agent selected to navigate an organization and its people towards accomplishing specific goals in spite of the competing requirements, lack of funding, training shortfalls, etc.  Today’s fast-paced culture affects chemistry more than people care to realize; a unit void of leadership is susceptible to operating on uncertainty, ambiguity, or doubt and operating effectively under these conditions is a challenging task. Squadrons cannot be left to run on autopilot by a deputy or another seasoned senior officer. A former supervisor once articulated, “as the commander you’re no longer “one of the gang”…you’re part of the infamous “they”  What does this mean? You are in charge and you must make daily decisions!

Trust promulgates your philosophy of command; it must “flow throughout the chain of command”. And with good reason, trust facilitates your ability to groom, mentor, and teach. An Airman that trusts their commander will allow themselves to be led by that individual. Less than a year ago, my supervisor and his peers stopped trusting their commander. Numerous acts of poor leadership eventually severed what little mutual trust existed. It is difficult to surmise, but for the six months leading up to the change of command, staff meetings, and mentoring sessions were an exercise in futility. Numerous field grade officers would go through the motion of communicating with the boss, knowing full well his interests lie in other lines of operation. It was epic; he worked hard, led with common sense, but his empty rhetoric failed to stimulate any of his directors to reciprocate. Trust was compromised and when he officially relinquished his position, his staff rejoiced. According to ADRP 6-0, “subordinates are more willing to exercise initiative when they believe their commander trusts them”. This couldn’t be any more accurate

 – Orlando Lopez

Having been an instructor in the world’s best Air Force for almost a decade now; it is very easy to look at things from a flying perspective. Every day is devoted to ensuring aspiring aviators are well versed in the ins-and-outs of flying. Be it aircraft systems, airspace, instrument procedures and techniques, the students are constantly learning. Something that can be overlooked is a student pilots on going learning of leadership. There is no better example of this than during the execution of emergency procedure training, or “stand-up.” Anyone who has gone through this training can most likely still recite what must be said before the aircraft commander takes control of the aircraft and the situation. It is: “I will maintain aircraft control, analyze the situation, take the proper coordinated action and land as soon as conditions permit.” I believe a squadron commander can develop a command philosophy out of this same statement.

The first step that must be taken is to “maintain aircraft control.” This can be changed to “maintain squadron control. “ No matter what challenges develop during your tenure as the commander, there should be no question as to who is in control. Maj Smith describes the legal authority given as “authority by virtue of rank and written appointment.” “ While tasks can be delegated to subordinates, command responsibility cannot-it must remain with one individual entrusted to direct the mission.” At the end of the day it is the commander that has to make and live with the decisions he or she makes. Control can also be gained or lost from the environment established in the squadron. According to Col Goldfein “the work area must be secure, safe, of high standard, and respectful of diversity.” He goes on to say, “the most challenging aspect of building this environment will be establishing open and engaged communication flow within the unit.” In the aircraft we call this crew resource management (CRM), where every member of the crew has an input in the operation of the aircraft. The same principles should be used daily within the squadron.

The second step is to “analyze the situation.” A myriad of situations could occur during a command stint. This step isn’t saying that you should be prepared for any and all possibilities that could occur, or that you should do it alone. What it is saying is as a situation develops you must take the time to get as much information as possible prior to going to the next step. In flight training this means looking over any relevant part of the aircraft before doing something that could help or hurt the situation if not known first. As a commander this is similar to what Lt Col Smith describes as “the 24-hour rule” when dealing with discipline. You must refrain from making snap decisions that may change with just a little bit more information.

The third step is it to “take the proper, coordinated action.” This is where the rubber meets the road. In emergency procedure training a detailed checklist is selected based on the analysis of the problem. This checklist should fix or improve the problem. In command and leadership there are few checklists to follow, but there are important words in this phrase that can help. When the action is taken, it must be proper. A proper action should reflect the Air Force core values, the orders of superior officers and where applicable the UCMJ. It must also coincide with the values you develop personally. The action must also be coordinated. Meaning that even though the action is ultimately the commanders, input needs to come from the entire leadership team. Or better yet, anyone in the command that has a perspective on the situation. This can all happen through the chain-of-command.

The final step of the process is “to land as soon as conditions permit.” This step might be the hardest to translate into a leadership philosophy, but it might be the most important. In the aircraft, after all the information is gathered and checklists are run, you are ready to take the aircraft to a safe and sound landing. For the squadron commander, this where he lets the actions of his decision play out, for good or for bad. If the outcome is good; then send praise where praise is warranted. Send it to the people who contributed to and carried out the direction that was given. If the outcome was not good; then own up to the mistake and learn from it. Save blame for no one but yourself and take notes for future decisions that will be made. This step allows the members of the squadron to what they do best…the mission. It is also where legacies are built.

Maj Wesley Olson

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s