loveLove ‘em hard son

There’s something you don’t hear every day. On a stretch of interstate 95 northbound and somewhere just inside of Virginia, I was offered this odd sounding nugget of wisdom.

To be clear…I’m a maintainer, and I like maintainer things. I was raised a maintainer, taught to think and act like a maintainer. The term “love” rarely makes its way into our vocabulary. So when a retired maintenance chief with 30 years of airlift under his belt said “love ‘em hard”, witnesses probably thought I was trying to solve an astrophysics equation at 70 MPH. Let’s just say I was slightly confused.

Love ‘em hard…and work ‘em hard” he went on. The question bounced around my head before I managed to ask “how do you love them hard?” The response was simple; “show them you care.” We talked about our wives and kids, we discussed trust and leadership, he wished me luck, and I hung up the phone. For the remainder of the drive I thought about those words. It’s what I think about as I type this evening.

That was one month ago, in route to my first new duty station in 16 years. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. I want to become a leader like the Chief and others I’ve looked up to. The path laid in front of me was summed up as simply:

Love ‘em hard…work ‘em hard…show them you care

How? Well, that’s the hard part.

Today’s SNCOs face a myriad of challenges; a new evaluation system, budgetary constraints, and Airmen who are struggling with the weight of doing more with less. For a period of time (as in most of my NCO career), we were taught to be good managers. This was okay until we began losing touch with growing as leaders. We’re given all these wonderful rules and regulations to measure standards, and we’re expected to enforce those standards when our folks deviate from them.

Okay…got it, but why should Airmen care?

Uh oh…there’s that painful question.

Why?

Do your folks know the “why”?   If they don’t, they should. You should know why. If not, be honest and tell them you don’t know…then go find out for yourself. Trust me, they’ll notice. “Because I told you so” or “because the regulation says” is not enough for the next generation of Airmen.

Contrary to some opinions, they’re smarter; they have more access to information and opinions, and want to know they are being heard on some level. Guess what? The Air Force is also teaching them to express their opinions. Listen and teach them how to effectively communicate. They may not like the answers they get, but knowing you care enough to listen goes a long way.

If you haven’t heard of the books “Start with Why” or “Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sinek, go out and read them. Like right now. Ever heard of TED talks? Go check them out. Search the website for leadership lectures. What do you think your Airmen are watching or reading online? If you don’t know, you should find out. Facebook…Reddit…blogs (hint: you’re already reading one); their frustrations are out there for everyone to see if you choose to pay attention.

So, what does all of this have to do with a road trip phone call and throwing around “care” and “love”?

Good question. I’m still trying to figure that out for myself. Time will tell if I’ll be successful in my new position. I’m sure I’ll find more lessons to write about as I screw things up here and there. But I do know this; my success will not be determined by those above me. It will be decided by those I’m charged with leading. “Work ‘em hard” has always come easy. But for me, the “why” is the crucial link to “show them you care”.

…or dare I say “love ‘em hard”.

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