Much has been written and studied about military precision, from how to write an email to how to improve courtroom performance. To be truly successful, our corporate leadership methods, too, should be modeled in a manner similar to the Air Force corporate structure. Yes, I said “corporate.” The Air Force is run like a business and led by a “CEO,” the Secretary of the Air Force. Little did I know the Secretary of the Air Force would shape my professional growth early on in my Air Force career.
Shortly after taking oath, Secretary Deborah Lee James stepped out of an up-armored SUV, surrounded by armed guards, onto my small forward operating base in Afghanistan. With explosions around the country and gunfire exchanges occurring daily, Secretary James still took the time to mentor. For two hours, she sat in the NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan conference room and discussed our mission, our role, our nation and our leadership. Secretary James exuded confidence and compassion for each member of her air force, from the highest-ranking colonel in the room to the lowest ranking airman. She precisely focused on the task at hand and the people who were vital to our success. Her demeanor, method and manner inspired me.
As a leadership student, purveyor and perfectionist, I continued to look into the details of my own leadership in the years that followed and studied her methods, writings and teachings, including her book, Aim High: Chart Your Course and Find Success. In the pages of her wisdom, I discovered the importance of deliberately developing your personal leadership and how to focus those efforts as precisely as the Thunderbirds flying formation. This is the precision by which to lead. The true measure of a leader is determined by those they influence and develop to follow in their footsteps.
Here are six ways to put precision leadership to work.
1. Make a Plan A, but prepare to zigzag. A military professional always has a plan but is fully prepared for whatever may come. As we always said in the Air Force, flexibility is the key to airpower, and preparation is the key to flexibility. Think through every business meeting and product rollout as to what can go right and what can go wrong — and then prepare for both.
2. Be a part of something big. The key to feeling fulfilled in life is having a purpose. Never work for a paycheck; work to make a difference. A true leader must focus on each individual with precision in order to intrinsically inspire them, proving to them how vital they are to the bigger picture. As a leader, make sure everyone on your team understands their importance. Each person should feel a direct connection to you and the mission.
3. Get a mentor. Be a mentor. Build your network. Learn from others, and succeed in your own role — and then help others be successful in theirs. The precision you are looking for can be found by intentionally surrounding yourself with those who inspire you and those inspired by you. Remember the common saying: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Choose wisely!
4. Learn. Evolve. Reinvent. Our task as leaders is to guide our teams to success. To be successful, we must be lifelong learners and always question everything to ensure success down the road. Pick one thing in your life or organization to improve, and then chart a path to success.
5. Put people first. If you get the people part of the equation right, the rest will fall into place more easily. As I said in my previous article, “The path to economic, corporate and individual success is clear: Put people first and empower them.” Pick an aspiring young leader, and share a cup of coffee with them. Spend some time discussing their potential and mentoring their success. For each individual, focus your efforts with precision, and you’ll achieve your goal.
6. Lead a full life beyond work. Success is not defined by fortune amassed or awards received. It is determined by the legacy you leave behind. Be deliberate in how you spend the most precious and valuable resource you have: time!
These six principles inspired me on my own leadership journey and honed my resolve to navigate an intentional life. Always remember that the true measure of a leader is determined by those they influence and develop to follow in their footsteps. Learn and live intentionally!