“Building bridges is what a leader does” was the advice I received somewhere along the road. This sounded like some common sense advice to me; however, it turns out that not everyone feels the same way. We have all worked with some who will do whatever they have to in order to achieve a short-term victory. Instead of winning every little battle, we need to be focused on the long-term success of our team.
I remember sitting in a morning meeting and listening to our night shift Pro Super almost bragging about how he strong-armed a SSgt into bringing something out to a mission aircraft early. He wanted to look good and have everything ready for day shift and never thought about the ripple effects this could cause. To explain further, this aircraft was not scheduled to leave until much later in the day. The shop this young man worked at was minimally manned throughout the night. The night shift got things ready for day shift and days delivered things to the aircraft for their missions. By having him leave the shop, he caused him to lose an hour of this prep time and made his life a lot harder all for a no-value-added gain.
After the meeting, I pulled my Pro Super aside and educated him on this. Although I appreciated him trying his best to set up his team, I wanted to be sure he understood how this other shop operated. It was important to respect others’ operating procedures. Then we reflected on how we would respond if someone asked us to do something outside of the norm for no real good reason. He walked away with a better understanding…and an assignment.
I encouraged him to engage with this shop and all the others he routinely dealt with on night shift to see how they operate. I wanted him to stop by a different one each night and get an understanding of what they did and what their functions were on the different shifts. I wanted him to do this so he could see the impact of asking for things and so he could build relationships with those working in these shops.
When you engage with someone out of the blue, it is non-threatening and you are more apt to build a stronger rapport than when you are going there under the pretense of a work related issue. I was encouraged to do this by a mentor of mine and this is how I understood how that shop operated on nights as well as how important it was to build bridges with some great people. My Pro Super did very well at building these bridges and even would invite some of these one-person shops to cookouts at the squadron. You feed any Airman and you have a friend for life.
The most important aspect of building a bridge is the long-term relationship formed between the two parties. Because of his efforts working with all of these shops, he actually opened some new doors for our team and we found ways to mutually benefit each other. Our team became more empathetic to the work demands of other people and they understood the importance of generating missions and sometimes we did need things early to prep for a busy schedule.
We need to keep in mind if what we are asking of others is going to add value to the mission or just make us look better. If we become more focused on building bridges and understanding how others operate more clearly, we see that winning small victories with force only serves our own ego. In the long run, we all benefit by working together.