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AFSOC commander highlights importance of humility

  • Published
  • By Lt. Gen. Brad Heithold
  • Commander of Air Force Special Operations Command


Recently, the Director of the FBI, Mr. James Comey, sent a note to his work force on the subject of humility. I think we can all learn something from his observations. He noted that one of his weaknesses has been over-confidence. I’m of the opinion that as Air Commandos we must be confident, yet humble. The character trait of humility is often misunderstood. Humility is frequently mistaken for timidity and meekness. Being humble does not mean we are self-denigrating. Rather, it is about maintaining a quiet confidence without the need to loudly proclaim our individual accomplishments. This is part of our heritage and culture that makes an Air Commando synonymous with the term “Quiet Professional.”

Great leaders are not over-confident nor do they maintain absolute certainty over their ideas. Great leaders surround themselves with people who see the world differently and empower others to speak up and contribute. They solicit input and feedback from the entire team even when all are silent. Why does this matter? Because regardless of how gifted or effective an individual leader may be, there will be a time in their life where they won’t have the answer. None of us is as smart as all of us.

To be a good leader you must have the confidence to encourage the opinions of others and inspire open, frank and honest dialogue. Conducting business this way takes more time but we end up with a much better solution and in the end we always get buy-in from the team. Collaborative and collective solution sets are always best. Also, doubt is not a weakness, but rather a sign of wisdom. It shows that a leader is humble enough to use doubt to make better, more informed decisions…admitting this to oneself and the team takes humility. Exceptional leaders also have the courage to “own” a mistake. Taking responsibility for one’s mistakes shows maturity, leadership, and most importantly humility.

During my tenure here in Air Force Special Operations Command, you’ve heard me talk about “Servant Leadership” and how important it is for the continued growth and effectiveness of our organization. Humility is a character trait closely aligned with what it means to be a servant. Therefore, to effectively serve our Air Commandos, I ask that you understand, practice, and teach humility as a foundation for successful leadership.