The Hidden Key to Great Leadership

We have an amazing Office Manager. She does a great job of herding cats, including me as the CEO, reminding me (by being “politely pushy”) that I’m up to write the next blog article.

Sitting at my desk, I debated the many possible topics I could write about that are dear to me. In our current milieu, there are so many that could spur me spilling words onto a virtual page: the health and safety of our nation, healthcare parity, services to the marginalized, leadership, transitions, economics, etc.

For decades now I’ve worked with Laura – who is my friend, colleague, fellow founder, and co-leader at TBD Solutions. In our younger years, we worked for a CEO in another firm that was also compelled to write a newsletter. He started every article with an observation of what he could see from his top-floor desk:

“As I sit here and look out my window, seeing the summer in full bloom…”

Asked to write the next blog, I found myself doing pretty much the same thing. How unoriginally ironic…

To our old CEO’s credit, the exercise was helpful! However, the similarities end here. A big difference always existed between the old guy and me: His perspective on people could be summarized as “we are all but worms”, truly adhering to a belief that each person was fully replaceable. To a limited extent, I understand his perspective.

But I am otherwise convinced that the opposite is far more correct: The uniqueness of each person makes them irreplaceable. And, if you actually find someone who is a true gem, then you do what you reasonably can to keep them!

So, if great people are like jewels, then TBD Solutions is blessed with abundance. Each “TBDer” is highly capable, intelligent, down-to-earth, and driven. They are so good they continually push our leadership team! (It’s hard just to keep up!)

Reflecting on this group of great people, I narrowed my focus a bit to consider how we lucked out to have this team. As I reflected on each person, it brought to mind an article I wrote years ago while in the military.

You see, I am an old Air Force guy – from the time of my enlistment at 17 years old until I hung up the uniform for good over 27 years later. Having passed the baton of command to a fantastic person, I stepped into the Inspector General (IG) role for my final year of service.

Before I retired from duty as our Wing1 IG, I summarized some of my own observations about great leadership. What resulted is not what one might presume.

Here is a re-print, edited a bit from what was originally published in the 110th Airlift Wing’s October 2012 “Jet Stream Journal”, Volume 18, Number 9, page 2.


While much has been written about leadership, I want to briefly touch on something just as crucial and too often ignored: Followership.

Before any leader steps into a position of authority, they were first a young airman or a budding “butter bar”2 that was fairly clueless about what military leadership looked like. And if our Air Force Doctrine3 is based on the amalgamation of People and Mission, those doing the work have even greater importance than those that lead – or else the mission would never get accomplished! Not everyone can be formal leaders. But all of us, no matter what our position – from Wing Commander to newest Airman – must be able to follow others well. It helps make great leaders. And make no mistake: Every one of us remains under the authority of someone else.

In my experience as both follower and leader, the traits that I see in the best followers are:

1) INTEGRITY. More than doing the right thing when no one is looking, it’s being honest with yourself and others at all times, and in all ways. You cannot be honest with others if you first aren’t honest with yourself.

2) POSITIVE ATTITUDE. It’s the resolve that doesn’t fold under pressure nor let the negative stop them in their tracks. Those that are both realistic and positive continue to strive for the best.4

3) HUMILITY. The line between confidence and arrogance is lined with knowing yourself and your limitations. Being humble allows you to hear critical feedback and make adjustments. Too often, a lack of knowing your weaknesses and being humble keeps you from having a positive attitude and actualizing your potential.

4) SELFLESSNESS. The cousin of “humility”, selflessness looks to the needs of others before the needs of self. In my opinion, every great leader first possessed this trait as a follower.

5) DISCRETION. Good followers hold themselves responsible for their own actions at all times. But great followers also hold their peers and their leaders accountable. Knowing when and how to do that to the utmost effectiveness is to understand the importance of sound judgment and situational awareness. Such is the very core of discretion.

6) COURAGE. Rather than the absence of fear, courage is what allows a selfless person of integrity to engage difficulty and conflict even at grave risk to themselves. While all of us fear peril, those that are able to control it take appropriate action without fail. And think about it: Far too often, we fear losing control of what we have or want. Ask yourself, would it matter in a month, a year, or a decade? If not, consider reducing its importance and quit fearing it.

7) INDUSTRIOUSNESS. A great follower that can be counted on to get the job done is invaluable. If you have every other trait here, you’re just a good person. To set the example in your actions makes you the most valuable of followers – and is the type of person this Wing’s successes have been founded on.

8) FORGIVENESS. This may seem a very odd way to conclude the list. My temptation is to put “trust” here, which you find at the core of synergistic effectiveness. Instead, I believe that the inability to forgive can bind you to negative past experiences and disable your ability to achieve excellence, both personally and as a team. Where plausible, releasing the past does something surprising: It frees you! And that’s better than letting hurts and disruptions become a barrier to team cohesiveness.

Any surprises? Notice I didn’t say “being really smart”, “obeys authority without question”, or “is the best in their field”.


Awesome followers are forged in the fires of great character. I would bet on any cohesive unit of superb followers before the “best and brightest” any day. Here’s to all of us and our continued trek towards followership excellence!


This is what I see in our TBD Solutions team. Yes, they are “really smart”. But more importantly, they are cohesive, and each bringing their amazing character to the table daily.

By their great Followership, each “TBDer” is also a leader, not only to our company, but also our valued friends/clients. They continue to teach me daily — even though now I’m the old CEO who deserves being teased…

#humbled #thankful

1 A “Wing” is a unit of command that is usually located at one base, comprised of other smaller units (groups, squadrons) to make it self-sustaining in the fulfillment of its mission. It is usually lead by a Colonel or Brigadier General.
2 TBD Solutions readers: A butter bar is a 2nd Lieutenant – the lowest officer rank that most start at.
3 Each branch of the armed forces has a “doctrine” – or guiding principles about how it conducts operations in the protection of our nation, and in harmony with the other branches of the service. Those branches are (in order of age), Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Space Force.
4 Brené Brown has written extensively about the connections between joy and gratitude. Having a positive attitude likewise has its deep roots in purposeful appreciation.