Leadership: Not an easy art to practice

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Brice Middleton
  • 912th Air Refueling Squadron Commander
The often heard phrase "the path of least resistance" is a term that describes a metaphorical or physical path that, among a given set of alternatives, provides the least resistance for forward motion. In physics, this term is often used to describe why an object moves the way it does as in a ball being pulled downhill by gravity. However, with regards to human behavior, Webster's dictionary states that the path of least resistance is taking the easiest way to avoid confrontation or personal effort, and for that reason, when it comes to leading your Airmen effectively, this is a path you should avoid.

Leadership is not an easy art to practice. It's about doing what's right for the organization and the people in it and often motivating them to do things they don't necessarily want to do -- it's not a popularity contest. All too often, many of our NCOs, senior NCOs and officers are in positions best summed up by President Abraham Lincoln's words that you can please most of the people some of the time, some of the people most of the time, but none of the people all of the time. Unfortunately, when in this position, I frequently see leaders within our units try to take the path of least resistance and attempt to please people rather than do what's right or be honest with their subordinates.

Most people don't enjoy looking someone in the eye and telling them they have to work or go TDY when they don't want to even though they may be the right person for the job or in need of the training or experience it will provide. Likewise, it's not easy to tell someone they are out of shape, overweight or they're just not meeting standards -- but as their leaders, rather than avoiding confrontation, it's your duty and you owe it to the people working for you to be honest and provide them with timely and constructive feedback.

Similarly, when it comes to getting the mission done and daily operations, don't try to take the path of least resistance and avoid personal effort. Evaluate and decide who needs to perform a tasking or go on a TDY or mission not just based on who wants to go, but who will do the best job and who needs to go in order to get the most out of it. Letting folks sign up for what they want to do is easy, but it's not necessarily what's best for them or the organization. As their leaders, you should take the time to put the effort into looking out for your subordinates' best interests and development -- remember, you are grooming your future replacements, so make sure you're giving them the tools and experience to do the job.

In closing, as a leader (or future leader) of Airmen within your unit, try to remember and apply the adage of "People First, Mission Always," and steer clear of the temptation as you evaluate the various alternatives in your daily decision making to take the path of least resistance by avoiding personal effort and confrontation. Make the right decision, not the easy or popular one. Your subordinates might not be pleased with you at the time but by doing what's right for them and the organization they will grow to appreciate and respect you for it over time as they acquire a better insight and perspective on the Air Force mission and their integral part in performing it.

[Editor's note: The 912th ARS is assigned to the 92nd Air Refueling Wing but stationed at March Air Reserve Base, Calif.]