Don’t let poor leadership roll you inverted!

By Ken Murray

28 Feb 2019

            I’m sure like me, you’ve seen so many different leadership skills and styles over the years. And, in most cases, you headed home on your daily commute either talking to yourself or simply sifting through your thoughts from the day wondering how upper management could think the way that they do.

           A simple search of the Web provides you lists of leadership styles and skill sets that build outstanding managers. So, I won’t kill trees or waste bandwidth by republishing and defining each style in this work. However, I do want to discuss the various behaviors that helped me get through my 25-year USAF career when dealing with leadership styles that ranged from one end of the spectrum to the other.

           It could be said that a perfect leader would be that person who performs each of the skill sets or leadership styles at 100%, all the time. Now, we all know that is virtually impossible, so it’s up to the subordinates to figure out just where that new leader, or older leader in a new position, is coming from. Sometimes that’s the hard part.

            I feel my forte is that I am a good reader of people. I usually know within the first five minutes of a one-on-one conversation whether my counterpart is a straight shooter or not. (This trait comes in very handy at the car dealership). As I come to know the new boss better, I start storing his/her actions, words, skills, and knowledge in my own mental RAM. I would witness how they handled various situations, which in the flying environment could mean dealing with safety issues, life and death situations, praise and discipline. I quickly learned as a young lieutenant to store a leader’s good traits and flush their poor traits before they even departed for their next job.     

While writing my book, “On Parr,” Colonel Ralph Parr was losing his long battle against cancer and time. But before he passed, we talked for hours on end about various topics. Two topics I want to discuss here are taking care of your people and praising in public while disciplining in private. He and I agreed that during our Air Force careers (even though he was about 30 years my elder) taking care of people, especially when it dealt with money or pay issues was a task that should immediately percolate to the top of a leader’s to-do list. He felt that if his troops were happy and comfortable then the rest would fall into place and inherently lead to 100% mission effectiveness. The second topic, praising in public while disciplining in private is common sense. But you’d be surprised how many times we each saw commanders reaming subordinates out in front of their peers. Those types of actions get you nowhere. In fact, you’d start to see squadron mates walking around on egg shells rather than performing at the top of their game for fear of screwing up. We all know that doesn’t bode well for mission effectiveness, but I’ll bet you have all come across a leader like that. The sad part is that the actions of our leaders have varying effects on their people and there’s really no way to predict how each individual person will react when it is his/her turn in the barrel.

            So, the next time you feel your management has failed you or a leader has you feeling like you are flying inverted, remember how and why you got there. Make those good traits takeaways for you to use another day and immediately flush those poorly portrayed leadership traits and you will be “On Parr” for when it is your turn to lead!