Commentary: Simple, powerful principles lead to authentic leadership

Randy Parmenter
Asset Accountability Branch Chief
Installation Management Division
88th Civil Engineer Group

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Randy Parmenter Asset Accountability Branch Chief Installation Management Division 88th Civil Engineer Group

Practical wisdom still works in today’s fast-paced world

Many years ago, I came across an article on leadership and, as all of us have experienced at some point, words suddenly jump off the page with a particularly strong meaning.

They usually come right at a time in our lives when we need to hear them the most. It’s even possible we’ve heard the exact same words before, but they meant nothing to us at the time.

However, because something is now different within us, the information is suddenly poignant and the words become an indelible guide as we navigate through some aspect of life.

The article was titled, “Thoughts from the Steps” (TIG Brief, Winter 2009).

At the time, Lt. Gen. Ronald Sams was the Air Force’s outgoing inspector general. He took the opportunity to summarize his 36-year officer career using snapshots of interactions that inspired significant lessons and shaped his leadership.

He told us how he was fortunate to have commanders, flight instructors and a whole cadre of personnel who impacted his learning and — as I can imagine he would admit — were highly instrumental in his success.

In the typical fashion of great leaders who have the ability to articulate much with few words, Sams culminated his leadership advice into only six thoughts:

1. Keep your wits and don’t overreact when things go wrong.

2. Never ask someone to sacrifice their integrity.

3. Always complain to someone who can actually help you.

4. You succeed when others succeed. Let them do their jobs.

5. Enjoy your work and never forget how smart people are.

6. Leave it better than you found it.

For more than a decade now, I’ve found these to be simple, powerful leadership principles leading to authentic and inclusive leadership. They provide no theoretical advice born out of academic institutions of higher learning or talking points from “think tanks” full of people espousing specific principles. Nor do they sound like leadership advice from someone who’s marketing a book on the subject they just happened to write.

They would have worked 100 years ago just as well as in today’s complex, fast-paced world.

While the world is full of great individuals who aspire to and achieve significant career milestones and certainly leave positive marks on those that follow their advice, Sams leaves us with a simple reminder — be humble in your leadership. It doesn’t mean you’ll always be in agreement with others. It doesn’t mean you’ll always be right.

I challenge you to go back up and carefully read each of Sams’ six reminders, and you’ll see how his sage wisdom can only lead to positive outcomes and supportive relationships in your personal and professional interactions.

To read the article yourself, visit

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