Commentary by Lt. Col. Arlene Collazo
21st Spae Operations Squadron, Detatchment 2 commander
Throughout my career, I’ve kept a mental list of characteristics I’ve admired from other officers and noncommissioned officers I’ve worked with: subject matter expertise, assertiveness, cool under pressure, quick thinker, grounded, etc. There is one leadership characteristic that I think is the most important of all, and that is humility.
We often equate humility with low self-worth, hesitation and shyness. That is not humility. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, humility or the act of being humble means “not arrogant, nor proud.” Most leaders do not set out to be arrogant leaders; however, the fine line between subject matter expert and arrogance can be blurry. Arrogant leaders are “know-it-alls”; they know what is best and do not need the advice of others. On the other hand, humble leaders acknowledge their own strengths and weaknesses and are open to seek the advice and counsel of others. This openness to others’ ideas also helps leaders to learn and grow by transforming their weakness into strength.
Humility allows leaders to value the contributions of others to their success. By welcoming input from subordinates, leaders can build a stronger unit. Subordinates feel important to the success of the mission and that they are valued members of the unit. This, in-turn, gives subordinates the confidence to approach their leaders with honest opinions and without the fear of rejection.
Merriam-Webster offers another meaning of humble: “in a spirit of deference and submission.” This definition reminds me of the Air Force Core value, “service before self.” As leaders, we are servants to the AF mission. Its goals are our goals. Humble leaders make sure that their actions support the mission and the goals of the AF.
Humble leaders are also servants to their fellow Airmen; the Airmen that accomplish the mission. In order to be effective, leaders must earn the loyalty and dedication and respect of the people through compassion and empathy. A leader should never forget the people. As Eugene B. Habecker said in, “The Other Side of Leadership,” “The true leader serves. Serves people. Serves their best interests, and in doing so will not always be popular, may not always impress. But because true leaders are motivated more by loving concern than a desire for personal glory, they are willing to pay the price.”
Leaders know that no matter how high their position, they need a strong foundation. This solid foundation is humility. I urge leaders to be humble. When we are humble, we allow others to participate and seek their advice. When we are humble, we grow as individuals and leaders and our organization grows as well. When we are humble, we value our people and have empathy and compassion toward them. For, if we are humble, our great Air Force will remain strong.