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What it means to be a servant-leader

by Col. Charles W. Mackett III
6th Medical Group commander

When I assumed command of the 6th Medical Group in 2003, I challenged members of the group to be leaders regardless of their rank. I told them I expected them all to do three simple things.

First, I asked them to safely and professionally execute the mission. Second, I asked them to enhance our quality of caring and not just our quality of care. And finally, I asked them to take care of our people--to be involved, mentor and train our people to provide the best possible health care to every member of Team MacDill.

As I near the end of my command tour, I am incredibly proud of how the members of the 6th MDG responded to my challenge and how they accomplished the simple goals I laid before them. The vast majority stepped up and became leaders leaders regardless of their rank. And they did so whether in garrison or in places like Balad, Bahgram, Manas and Al Udeid.

How did they do it?

They did it by living the Air Force core values of "integrity first," "service before self" and "excellence in all we do." Perhaps more important, they did so by being good wingmen and by being servant leaders.

What is a servant leader? You may know one when you see one--Ghandi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa and the late Pope John Paul II come to mind--but you may not completely understand this seemingly contradictory concept.

In "The Power of Servant Leadership," Robert K. Greenleaf explains the idea of the servant as a leader. In this leadership model, the leader's motives, actions and decisions are focused on serving the needs of others.

People--their needs, ideas, dreams and goals--are the heart of servant leadership. Servant-leaders put their people first. They ask for input, regularly exchange ideas with those they lead and, whenever possible, seek to build consensus on issues. Servant-leaders take care of their people and make an effort to understand their needs and motivations.

When a person of authority, regardless of rank or level in an organization, commits to the guiding principles of servant leadership, those being served are much more likely to adopt, support, and successfully carry out the mission and vision of the organization.

Unit success is, for the most part, the result of teammates, supervisors, managers and leaders living up to their obligation to take care of their people and each other--to be servant-leaders.

It is often said, "Take care of the people and the people will take care of the mission."

This is why General John Jumper, chief of staff of the Air Force, recognized that the wingman concept is so critical to an effective force.

As Airmen and as leaders regardless of our rank, we must take an active interest in the well being of our fellow Airmen and recognize the needs of those around us.

Safe and professional execution of the mission rests on how well we take care of our wingman and whether or not we put people, our most important weapon system, first.

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