The heart of leadership

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Ruben Rios
  • 514th Air Mobility Wing public affairs
What are the important qualities that define a leader? Are leaders simply people belonging to the highest social stature or rank? Often times the thought of a leader will elicit ideas of someone who is naturally charismatic and able to influence those around them. While these characteristics may in fact be present in a leader, it can lead one to ponder whether leaders are simply born as such.


For Major Shannon M. Walker, 514th Force Support Squadron commander, with the 514th Air Mobility Wing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., a past full of hardships and a desire to help others, drive her to lead by example and push not only herself but those around her beyond their limits.


“I came from a very broken family,” said Walker. “I took all of the stumbling blocks of my childhood and created building blocks for my future.”


Entering the enlisted force immediately upon graduation from high school was only the beginning of a journey toward success for Walker. As she progressed through the ranks, she continued to drive herself toward personal and professional success including commissioning as an officer.


“I was a 1st Lt. at the Pentagon, said Walker.” “I did that and then the special assignment for President Bush came in. It was as a White House social aide. It was probably the most amazing two years of my life.”


In addition to serving as a White House social aide, Walker has held an impressive resume of positions such as action officer for the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, program manager for the Space Based Infrared System program, acquisitions officer for the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and many more, all leading up to her current position as commander of the 514th Force Support Squadron here.


“I've just been really blessed in so many ways,” said Walker. “I don't ever want to not give my best. Excellence in all we do – I bleed that blue into my veins.”


However, success did not always come easily for Walker. Like many people, there were times she had to overcome feelings of insecurity or doubt.


“I got picked up for Advanced Joint Professional Military Education (AJPME) school,” said Walker. “I was in a class with about 20 people and I was the lowest ranking. I was actually really insecure. For the first month I was afraid to even speak, but by the end I was told I was the core of the class.”


Walker said a fear of failure serves as a constant motivator to drive her past her limits and to continue striving for more.


“I never want to go back to where I started in life,” said Walker. “I give my all because I don't want to let anyone down."


Additionally, Walker's drive and desire for success extends beyond herself. She has dedicated part of her life to helping others achieve their goals as a certified life coach.


“I'm passionate about helping people become their very best,” said Walker. “I was leading a group for two years and some of the women were 400 plus pounds. I was so awed by these women, some losing 200 pounds, really taking life by the horns and making life thrive, not just surviving the daily groundhog day. They were able to do something. They were joyful, happy and positive and that is when I decided I wanted to be a life coach.”


The ability to achieve success begins with one’s own self and requires both physical as well as mental effort.


“Self-actualization is the place we all strive to be,” said Walker. “Until people get to that place they'll never know who they are. In the end, the only thing holding us back is ourselves. It's easy to be average, but it's my belief that none of us were born to be average or live an average life.”


Walker applies the same principles she coaches to her own life.


“Managers solve problems, leaders change lives,” said Walker. “Anyone can be in a position and check the boxes, but I think the leader that changes lives is the one asking questions.”


To Walker, a great leader goes above the average of what is expected and really takes an interest in the well being and success of his/her subordinates.


“Every leader has the dream to have some wisdom and be able to share it,” said Walker. “As a commander, you have the platform. I see people's best when they don't and I want to excite them and ignite them to go toward it.”


Walker approaches her roles as commander and as a life coach with the same positive energy.


“When I finally hang up my hat, whenever I leave the Air Force, I want to be able to look back and say, 'You know what? I really lived the core values, fundamentally to my core,'” said Walker. “'I gave my best, I tried my best and I helped others become their best.'”


Young Airmen beginning their own journeys should keep in mind that leadership is selfless. Embodying the core values, maintaining a drive for success and caring for others will inherently mold those Airmen as future leaders themselves.


“I think in the end if you're helping people more than yourself, I think that's where the true greatness of the Air Force will live out for many years and decades to come,” said Walker. “Live full, die empty – that's what I want to say.”