Q&A with Command Chief Master Sergeant Kaleth O. Wright 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force
Kevin: You've led and inspired many organizations. In your opinion, how do you define leadership?
Kaleth: I agree with the widely accepted definition that leadership is the art of influencing people to accomplish the mission; however, I think the real emphasis should be on the word "influence". John Maxwell noted that "leadership is influence, nothing more and nothing less". Your ability to motivate, encourage, and inspire others to succeed is what really determines how great of a leader you are. Regardless of rank, age, or stature, if you can influence people you are a true leader.
Kevin: What are some key elements that you contribute to your success?
Kaleth: There have been three key elements that contributed to my success over the years; mentorship, focus, and perserverance. I've had some really good mentors over the years that have helped shape my way of thinking and provided timely and effective guidance at both my highest and lowest points. It's critical to have someone you can trust who takes an interest in your life and career in order to be successful. I knew early on in my career that I wanted to be a Chief and make a difference so I developed the ability to set goals and focus on the things that I thought were important to help me reach those goals. I think most successful people have laser-like focus and can weed out all the white noise and distractions. Life is tough and no one ever said it would be easy to maintain a positive attitude and keep my head high through tough times has been critical to my success. Frederick Douglas once remarked that 'there can be no progress without struggle" and I can personally attest to that!
Kevin: Finding balance between career and family can be challenging. How have you approached this issue in your life?
Kaleth: I didn't always have a good balance when it came to career and family but I've gotten better over the years. It's a conscious effort that you have ensure that you have balance in all areas of your life to include career, family, education, religion, extracurricular activities, etc....It's important to realize that your journey through life is much easier when you include and take care of those most important to you...no one can go it alone!
Kevin: We've heard the term "Filling Squares" in terms of career progression. What is your perspective on this topic?
Kaleth: "Filling Squares" refers to those things that most people perceive you must do in order to get promoted and can range from the basics of obtaining your CCAF degree to being involved in the Wing Top 3 association to completing a special duty tour. The reality is there are certain things you must do to get promoted like obtaining your CCAF degree, completing SNCOA via correspondence, and being an excellent perfomer and leader in your respective job. So in essence, there are certain squares that must be filled to even be considered for promotion; however, everything else is up for debate. There is no magic formula or set of tasks that will guarantee promotion to the senior enlisted ranks. What I recommend to anyone interested in promotions to start early in your career and have a consistent record of outstanding superior performance and leadership both on and off duty. Be innovative, be a mentor to the Airmen in your office as well as the Airmen around your base, take on challenging positions of leadership at work and around the base, always look to improve yourself, maintain excellent fitness, avoid stagnation in the same job or at the same base, and most importantly, be passionate, be driven, and be focused on whatever goals you have set for yourself and your subordinates. If you practice these things promotion will take care of itself!
Kevin: Who are some of the people that have motivated you in life?
Kaleth: MSgt (Ret) Joseph Winbush has been my greatest mentor and father figure since I arrived at my first duty station. He has motivated me to be the best person I could be and povided an excellent example of what it means to be a professional, a husband, a father, a mentor, and a friend. Other people that have been a psositive influence in my life include my older brother Dwayne Wright, CMSgt (Ret) Kevin Meade, my basketball coaches Tony Jones and MSgt (Ret) Larry Glover, my former wingman and his wife Brigadier General Ricky and Mrs. Charlotte Rupp, fellow CMSgt James Davis and Vicki Gamble, CMSgts (Ret) Ron Draper and Cliff Massey, Maj Charles Fletcher, Maj Darryl Fox, SMSgt (Ret) Denise Bradley and my wonderful wife MSgt (Ret) Tonya Tene Wright!
Kevin: You're an avid reader. What are some of the authors/titles that you have incorporated into your daily regimen?
Kaleth: My Top 10 Professional Reading List Includes: (In no particular order)
1. Leadership: Achieving Life Changing Success from Within-Alford Mc Michael
2. Lead to Succeed: 10 Traits of Great Leadership In Business and Life-Rick Pitino
3. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People will Follow You- John Maxwell
4. It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership=Colin Powell
5. The Essential Wooden: A Lifetime of Lessons on Leaders and Leadership-John Wooden
6. Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices, and Priorities of a Winning Life-Tony Dungy
7. Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times-Donald T. Phillips
8. The Effective Executive-Peter F. Drucker
9. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action-Simon Sinek
10. The 5 Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximize Your Potential-John Maxwell
I have incorporated a little of each of these authors and their philosophies into my daily regimen. Reading keeps me sharp so I try to read 3-4 books a month.
Kevin: Strategically speaking, where do you see the Air Force moving in terms of developing the next generation of leaders?
Kaleth: The Air Force is in the process of making some changes to our Enlisted Evaluation System and Promotion System that will have an impact on leadership development in that it will help ensure that right people are promoted at the right time. Additionally, we are utilizing Developmental Teams in certain career fields that strategically look at all E-7s and above across the respective AFSC's in that career field to determine career paths and potential future opportunitites. However; the current restrictions of our assignment system don't allow for full blown deliberate development from a Force-wide perspective so the responsibility lies with the CMSgt and senior enlisted leasders in respective career fields and at various bases to develop programs to ensure deliberate development of our NCOs.
Kevin: What advice do you offer to those seeking mentorship?
Kaleth: Mentorship is important to your deliberate development and growth as a professional and a leader. Seek out 2-3 mentors that you trust to provide you with guidance you need to reach or development and growth as a professional and as a leader. Seek out 2-3 mentors that you trust to provide you with guidance you need to reach or develop your goals. They don't have to be in your career field, at your base, or even in the military but they do have to be someone you trust. Most importantly, be "mentor ready' by being open to the things your mentor tells you. A great mentor won't tell you what you want to hear or "sugar coat" the bad things for you. They will stretch you beyond your comfort zone in an attempt to help you grow so be ready!
Kevin: You're a passionate sports fan. Legendary transformative basketball coach John Wooden once said "The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team." In terms of teamwork, what's an essential message to communicate to the team?
Kaleth: John Wooden is a favorite of mine and as a basketball coach I often use his teaching philosophies to motivate my players. His philosophy on teamwork is spot on! I truly believe that none of us can go it alone and teamwork is essential to our success. Learning to work well with and depend on others is not easy but well worth it when the team works through the forming and norming stages and starts to mesh. When you see an aircraft take off from the flight line of any Air Force Base it's not readily apparent the amount of teamwork that it took to get it off the ground. But none of it would be possible without the pilots who are flying it, the maintainers who ensured it was ready, the logisticians who ordered the parts, the medics who cleared the pilots and crew for flight, the civil engineers who maintained the flight line, the defenders who protected the plane and the flight line, the aircrew flight equipment professionals, the contractors, and the host of other Airmen who will all contribute to the team! My advice to the team echoes Coach Wooden's philosophy..."play hard, play smart, play together, and have fun"!
According to Oxford dictionary, "Blueprint" is defined as something which acts as a plan, model, or template for others. I've always admired and have been motivated by achievers and the "whys" on the path to their success is what really intrigues me. I've been blessed with opportunity to meet and build relationships with great and influential leaders; gleaning seeds of wisdom and experience that produce success in my personal and professional growth. Each leader has a unique story. However, the consistent theme is a presence of a well-defined framework engineered to span from the inception of their vision to the realization of achieving their goals.
The subject of this profile shares effective measures by revealing the substance beneath the surface...the framework and elements; providing counterbalances to challenges that we may face on our journey to success.