Leadership Requires Service Before Self

  • Published
  • By Col. Michael Norton
  • EADS
On August 21, passengers on a train bound for Paris thwarted a massacre.  Three friends from Sacramento subdued Ayoub El-Khazzani, who was armed with an AK-47, a Lugar pistol, box cutters and plenty of ammo. Of the three, USAF Airman Spencer Stone was slashed multiple times with a box cutter. Another man, born in Durham, N.C. but living in Paris, was shot in the neck while trying to grab the rifle from El-Khazzani. These men showed great physical courage and saved many lives. They prioritized saving the lives of others above concern for only their own safety. In his actions, Airman 1 Class Spencer Stone embodied his service's core value of "Service Before Self."

There are many ways to live our "Service before Self" core value...I believe none is more important than the privilege of leading. Even those of us who serve many years in uniform typically don't find themselves in a situation like the one Spencer Stone did on Aug. 21. All of us, however, have the opportunity to lead in some way. During my career, I have developed an ever greater appreciation of the importance of humility in a leader.

Good leadership requires confidence. Yet confidence without humility can lead to arrogance, which can cripple an organization.  In fact, being humble actually requires more self-confidence. Here are some points I think about. I humbly admit that I regularly fail at these, but will trying.

1. Admit your mistakes. Let others see how you learn from your stumbles to make yourself better. It takes considerable confidence to do this but it builds your credibility since everyone makes mistakes...not everyone is open about them.

2. Make it their idea. Help guide people to a solution, then let them own it and take the credit for it. A leader who creates an environment where people can proactively solve problems is far more effective than a leader who tries to solve them him/herself.

3. Listen with an open mind. Before you "make it their idea," solicit and listen with an open mind to others' ideas. Don't rely on what "seems" right to you. The world is changing more rapidly than ever. Things that worked in the past may no longer be the right answer. 

Our number one mission this month is defending the National Special Security Event associated with the Papal visit in which Pope Francis will address a joint session of Congress and the U.N. General Assembly. His leadership of the Catholic Church has commanded the attention of people across the globe and across religions. Pope Francis is perhaps best known for the sense of humility he brings to this position. As we successfully defend the TFRs in D.C., N.Y. and Philly this month by living our core values, take time to reflect on the Pope's example of humility and what it means for you as a military leader.