Leadership by Experience

Leaders Have to Love

Me during a brief stop at Ali Air Base, Iraq, April 2003

If we love our country, we should also love our countrymen.

-Ronald Reagan

“Love” may seem to be an odd topic for a post on a leadership blog, after all I write about leading people in a business or organizational setting. However, I think “love” is a particularly poignant topic for us to discuss this time of year–particularly regarding love of country and appreciating our fellowship with each other.

I wrote the article below in 2006, when I was the commander of the 2d Civil Engineer Squadron, as an editorial in the base paper. Much to my surprise Air Force Print News picked it up and published it worldwide. I think that’s because we all want to be inspired to our better natures. It’s easy to be offended–it’s harder to love. But that’s exactly the kind of man I want to be, and the kind of leader I want to follow. Don’t worry, this is serious and I won’t be too sappy.

I’ve edited the original a bit–as I’ve gotten older and I’m no longer leading a combat unit, I’ve taken a little of the “edge” off. The sentiments, however, remain the same: Love your country, love your Air Force, and love your fellow Airman. I think even non-Airmen can relate: love your country, love your family, and love your co-workers.


I think that while Airmen many not use that word, “love”, they demonstrate their love in the way they serve every day. Above all, by living out our core values, we show our love for our country, our Air Force, and our fellow Airmen before love of ourselves.

Love Your Country

First, in order to serve this great nation, we must love her deeply.  Patriotism is an abstract concept for many people, but for those of us who wear the uniform of the Republic, love of country is an absolute necessity.  With our nation at war, her warriors must believe in the values that make our country great, else our service becomes little more than mercenary.  Our United States of America stands astride the road of history, and we, her warriors, have voluntary placed our bodies between civilization and the abyss of our enemy.  We have been blessed to serve such a great Republic–few other countries on earth can boast the freedoms that we enjoy here in America. Freedom to say what we think, believe what we want, associate with whom we choose, elect our government, and own our own property are values that are not common.  To love our country more than ourselves lifts our service from a just a “job” to a vocation, a calling, and it lifts us from being merely “in it” for ourselves to warriors for a great Republic fighting in the cause of freedom, for ideals larger than ourselves.

Love the Air Force

Love of our Air Force is the way we express our espirit de corps, that intangible measure of the devotion of the Airmen in a certain squadron or wing.  It manifests itself in the steely-eyed coolness of our aviators, the quiet technical professionalism of our maintainers, the can-do spirit of our combat support Airmen, and the selfless care of our medics.  We hear it in our squadron yells and we see it in the pride when we sing The Air Force SongEspirit de corps, literally “soul of the body”, expresses the energy, pride, and morale of any warrior. To love the Air Force is to give life to that soul of our Service.  The animation we give to our Service makes us the best in the world…and inspires our fellow Airmen to greater feats of arms.

Love Your Fellow Airman

The final “love” is love of our fellow Airmen.  As much as we love our country and our Air Force, during the most extreme moments we fight for each other.  Our training often bonds us through shared hardship, and the crucible of combat is the fire that hardens our steel.  Somewhere between the mundane tasks of everyday missions and the second by second terror of a street fight in Baghdad, we learn that our love for each other is what binds us most deeply.  We show our love for each other by the way we respect and care for each other, the way leaders do the hard work of discipline when it’s required, and the way we honor our own by celebrating our accomplishments.  It’s manifested most deeply in the way we salute a fallen Airmen.  Yes, love for our fellow Airmen is rarely spoken, but often seen–sometimes it’s just the knowing smile and firm handshake of a comrade who is confident his buddy has his back.

Many among us would not recognize the unnamed emotion they feel for their country, the Air Force, or their buddies–but no other word really describes these feelings better.  Patriotism, espirit de corps, and camaraderie–three words that mean the same to an Airman: love.


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and blogs.

Mickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own Leading Leaders blog, People Development Magazine, and GeneralLeadership.com.


Subscribe to my mailing list and get my ebook, “Mickey’s Rules for Leaders” as a FREE gift!

* indicates required


Email Format

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *