BloomWherePlantedI was asked recently, just after I had moved into a new position; “So, where are you going next?  QA Superintendent?  I hear that’s promotable.”

This question had me perplexed.  I had just moved to the new position—not six weeks prior—and was settling in to my new role.  Not only that, but I like my new environment—the absolute last thing on my mind was where I was headed next.  I had reached a rank-appropriate job that felt suited to me for the first time in many years.

In the Air Force, it has been said that once you attain certain ranks, you should be seeking particular duty positions, or duty positions deemed more ‘promotable’ than others to attain a ‘more ideal’ breadth of experience.  So, what happens when strong leaders are placed in positions typically ‘meant’ for ‘slugs’ or ‘slackers’?

Often, people identify problem areas within the unit—maybe it is a place that is typically not where your top performers are placed.  The crux of the issue is that often there are ‘promotable’ jobs that are thought to only be the way to promotion, or at least give one a higher chance for it.  I challenge that view.  Your actions in rank-appropriate roles (in scope and span of control) get you promoted.  Taking a stance that your chances of promotion become higher because you enter a certain role only means you have those numbers and bullets on your enlisted performance report—another form of ‘block checking’.

It is what you do in those roles that defines you and highlights your readiness for increased responsibility or merit for other accolades.

Take an example from the business world.  Nestle, the food and drink conglomerate, built an independent business called Nespresso.  Recognizing that their corporate culture would likely not yield the right leadership for this new unit, they hired a manager from outside the company that had a different style.  Under his leadership, Nespresso took off.  He could have tried to become the CEO of Nestle instead of a subordinate business unit executive, but he truly excelled in his role and everyone knew it.  That individual was known as the change agent that drove Nespresso’s success, not the CEO of Nestle.  Were he simply jockeying for the CEO spot, he may not have pushed Nespresso to achieve such success at its inception.

Sure, rank should be commensurate with position to make sense, but if a hard-charging new TSgt is placed in the dreaded tool crib as its NCO In Charge—imagine the return on investment.  What kind of positive changes could that pairing produce?  A nearly constant problem area during a unit inspection could be greened up and improved.  We take the wrong view on duty positions and fail to use our imaginations with what’s possible once in those roles.

I currently supervise a cadre of maintenance instructors.  After several of them were passed over for TSgt, I was asked by one of them what they would need to do to get a higher forced distribution rating on his enlisted performance report.  My explanation was simple; be the best instructor that you can.  Get involved.  They are considered subject-matter experts in their respective fields—they could get in on the ground level with analyzing any new trends with aircraft system malfunctions and equipment failures and seek solutions through technical data changes or by bringing it to the attention of an engineer.  Seek out training shortfalls and seek to address them.  Be a liaison, use your resources, broaden your view, and be that connection point to make processes around you more effective.

Don’t forget that you can use your imagination and build informal networks to stay relevant and effective in your job, no matter how far removed from ‘promotable’ it might be.  Many large, successful corporations rely upon informal networks and the insight of sharp people.  It rests on you to make that duty position what it is, especially if you have a lot of freedom of movement in your position.  Take advantage of that and create your own impact.

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