Leader's Forum: The 'Do Right' concept can help supervisors understand what makes a good leader

  • Published
  • By Frank Dolcater
  • 912th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron director
If you are in a leadership position, you have a tough job. Daily, you face manpower, material and budgetary shortages. You have personnel issues, deadlines and mountains of paperwork. It is a juggling act to balance requirements, and your boss just told you to figure out a way to be more efficient using fewer resources...and the list goes on!

Sometimes it all seems overwhelming yet no matter how hard it gets, we cannot afford to lose sight of our basic responsibilities as leaders. I've often used a portion of famed football coach Lou Holtz's "Do Right" concept as a framework to help supervisors understand what traits are important in a leader. The concept is simple - three statements with questions that help put basic leadership expectations in perspective.

The first statement: Do what is right. The question: Can I trust you?

The foundation of who you are and how you operate rests on one thing - your integrity. Not only do your bosses need to know they can trust you, so do your employees and your peers. There is no place for supervisors who engage in activities that compromise their integrity. As long as you apply the standards fairly (even if they're tough) employees will generally accept them. Loss of integrity (perceived or real) will kill your chances of being an effective leader.

The second statement: Do the best you can. The question: Are you committed?

No one expects perfection, but you as a leader have an obligation to strive for it. Take responsibility for your actions and own up to your mistakes. Supervisors who do that earn the respect of all. Show up for work every day with your game face on committed to the mission, people and programs of your organization.

Remember that it is not our right to pick and choose which programs or instructions we wish to follow. That does not mean you remain silent. Your opinion is important and you have both a professional and moral obligation to speak out and raise questions on issues that concern you. The key is in how you go about it. Defense Secretary Gates said the same thing to West Point cadets in a speech to them several years ago. His caution to them was to engage in meaningful dialogue in what he called, "Respectful disagreement through the chain of command." Once the final decision is made we, as professionals, must move forward and do our best to meet the requirements. There is no excuse for venting frustrations in front of your employees and whatever you do, don't make your boss the scapegoat.

The third statement: Treat others the way you want to be treated. The question: Do you care about me?

In my opinion, the worst thing a leader can ever do is publicly lose his or her cool. Our people deserve calm, decisive leadership. There are always a select few who will try to push your buttons to see if they can get a reaction. If you take the bait, you lose. Seek feedback from your people and do the same for them in return. Sometimes the truth hurts, but you need to hear it anyway. We'll never improve if we don't make an honest effort to listen.

Don't sink your boss! I once heard a supervisor say, "Well, this is crap but the boss says we gotta do it so quit bitching and just get it done." Statements like that are a cop-out. We need to take taskings on as our own and work to ensure their success. Always ask if there are concerns but once again, once a determination is made we must move forward and support the final decision made. Know the difference between a professional and personal opinion. Keep your personal opinions for closed-door sessions and keep your professional (often public) opinions respectful and to the point. Leave your emotions on the shelf and stick to the facts.

In closing I would like to leave you with three basic rules that are not a part of Mr. Holtz's "Do Right" philosophy but they sum it up nicely.

Rule 1 - How you do the mission is as important as getting the mission done. Translation: Integrity, quality, and efficiency go hand-in-hand.

Rule 2 - Know what will get your people hurt or killed and do your best to protect them. Translation: Genuine concern about your people's well-being says a great deal about your character.

Rule 3 - People watch what you do, not what you say. Translation: Walk the walk; your action (or inaction) defines you.