What is Leadership? This simple question is particularly appropriate as we consider the candidates in this election cycle.

As a US Air Force officer, part of my job was to identify and evaluate the leadership skills of those under my command. Here’s what I think it means to be an effective leader.

Being a leader means:

Having a vision. Equally important, letting everyone know what that vision is. That vision should include identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the organization. What do they do right? What do they do wrong? What could they do better? You can’t lead if you can’t identify what the organization should be doing.

Stepping up to the community, and having citizens follow. A leader displays leadership all the time. Yes, the Boy Scout helping the little old lady cross the street is demonstrating leadership. So is the leader who builds wheelchair ramps for the disabled. So is the leader who helps organize neighborhood watch groups. So is the leader who helps Habitat for Humanity. So is the leader who participates in community activities, like runs for charity. You can’t be a community leader if you don’t participate in the community.

Being accessible to everyone. Those you see in both good times and crises are probably leaders. Those leaders naturally stand out. A good leader is not hard to find.

Thinking out of the box. A leader is always looking for new, better, more innovative ways to do the mission. As threats change, so must tactics. Using yesterday’s methods puts the team behind the 8-ball every time. A good leader is a flexible tactician.

Learning the latest. A leader never stops learning. Whether it be with formal education, studying industry best practices, attending (or hosting) workshops, or helping staff grow professionally, a good leader never rests with what was good, but looks for what is better. A good leader always grows.

Using people skills and not a position description to be effective. A good leader isn’t a leader because the leader is assigned a leadership position. Rather, good leader uses all the skills in the tool kit to create action, accomplish the mission, motivate people, and create success. Leaders succeed because of who they are, not the position they currently occupy.

There are other leadership qualities to talk about, but these are the ones I see in play in this sheriff’s race in Franklin County. This is really simple: Only one candidate in the race is a true leader: AJ Smith.

He’s got my vote.

Kenneth Schroeder

Lt. Col., USAF, Ret.