HILL AIR FORCE BASE — What does it take to be a leader? For Maj. Gen. Stacey Hawkins, commander of the Ogden Air Logistics Complex at Hill Air Force Base, it's not being right all the time — it's admitting when you're wrong.
One of Utah's highest-ranking officers currently serving in active duty, Hawkins, says that when you find a leader who is comfortable enough to point out his or her own mistakes, they set good models for others to emulate.
"When you see examples — I call it a profile in courage or authenticity — particularly with our senior leaders, it's very refreshing," Hawkins said. "(That authenticity) helps us retain this new, curious generation that we're bringing into the service."
Speaking recently at Hill Air Force Base, Hawkins, 50, said he serves gladly in the hopes that the individuals he leads become the best airmen they can be. He describes leaders as those who are willing to do the right thing and speak the truth while espousing the best qualities within themselves — core values of integrity, selflessness and excellence — to become the best role models.
He is charged with leading over 8,100 military, civilian and contract personnel at the Hill facility that manages logistics, support, maintenance and distribution for the nation's elite fighter jets, including the F-35, F-22, F-16 and A-10. The complex also maintains the C-130 and T-38 aircraft along with other weapon systems such as the Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile.
Born in a small, rural town in northeast Louisiana, Hawkins received this first officer commission after graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Over the next quarter century, he would ascend the chain of command to become one of the highest ranking members of the Air Force.
Over the years he learned how to become a more effective leader by observing, listening and developing his interpersonal skills, he said.
"Leadership (is) an activity where people are mobilized toward progress," he said. It is an "action-oriented" endeavor, he added.
"Leadership is an activity that is a one-on-one endeavor, to the extent that you can make it," Hawkins said. "I'm always checking myself on how much time am I spending at my computer doing email as opposed to having face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball conversations with people."
Activity, mobilization and progress are the key ingredients to effective leadership, he said. Modeling one's behavior to actions that people are attracted to is challenging, he said.
"People want to see authenticity in their leaders. They want their leaders to be real and talk about what means the most to them in life," he added. "When you model that (behavior), you reach people."
"People may not remember what you say or remember what you do, but they will remember how you made them feel," Hawkins said. "To the extent that you can put yourself out there and take on the mantle of leadership, it's very gratifying when you see people come together to perform a mission or achieve something they otherwise thought they wouldn't be able to."
Despite being "a natural introvert," Hawkins said he has figured out how to affirm his leadership capabilities when situations have called for it. Those skills were honed during his time as a music director at church in his hometown.
"Leadership being part of music organizations really built the foundation that I stand on now," he said. "When you're trying to teach people music and trying to perform, it's a lot like playing in a sports competition. The leadership I learned to assert as a choir director really helped form a lot of leadership approaches that I use in my current position."
As a two-star general, Hawkins commands respect in any room he is in. While he appreciates the authority his rank demands, he is humble in acknowledging that he isn't "in charge" all the time.
"I would say that I'm expected to be an effective custodian, which has a leadership component to it of the airmen, civilian, military equipment and resources that I've been charged to execute," he said. "We've seen examples in the past of "toxic leadership" in the Air Force that we've tried to get after (and eliminate)."
He said the Air Force has made a point of identifying and correcting traits that could result in toxic environments. He is a proponent of what he calls "servant leadership," which forces individuals to temper any tendency to abuse one's authority as a military leader.
He also touted a paper authored by Gen. David Goldfein, current chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force, in 2001 when he was a colonel titled, "Sharing success — Owning Failure: Preparing to Command in the Twenty-First Century Air Force," as helping him better understand what true leadership looks like.1 comment on this story
"It speaks to (the notion) that if something does happen and there is an accountable party, the leader has to step in to fix it, resolve it and own it," he explained. "But if there is organizational success, what an opportunity to share that with everyone else."
He also noted the honor he feels in serving the country, as well as the "immense gratification and pride" he has in taking on the calling of being in a military leader and a general officer in the U.S. Air Force.
"Only a few people are ever able to serve in uniform — about 1 percent," Hawkins said. "It's a very small group of people who accept the responsibility and who take on an immense commitment to make sure the country's freedoms and values are preserved."