This past week many of our brothers and sisters faced the board for MSgt and some received great news and others did not. There is nothing fun about this process when we are in the Passover crowd. However, there are some things you can learn from me; the guy who accidentally made SMSgt.
Actually, as I began writing this, I recall that this same system enabled me to accidentally make SrA BTZ as well. What I mean by ‘accidentally’ is that I never set out to make SrA BTZ or even SMSgt. I did not go out of my way to do things with the motivation of making myself look better for a board, I just did what excited and challenged me. In fact, at both of these points in my career I was looking to leave the service: one on a Palace Chase and the other as I applied for TERA; however, enough about these useless points and on to the article.
Four ways to set yourself up for an accidental promotion:
1. Seek those jobs in your career field that excite you. When I was a young airman, I loved learning all I could about the behemoth C-5 Galaxy and would shadow everyone I could. If a specialist was doing something, I was right there offering help. Sometimes I was the gopher for them and sometimes they would let me be more hands-on. However, I always learned something new and it placed me above my peers in terms of street cred and aircraft knowledge.
I carried this trait into the NCO tier and later into the SNCO tier. Many supervisors would suggest I take a job that would “look good” for me to have under my belt. However, they were not things that excited me and I would tactfully offer other suggestions about a position that was not as pretty on paper, but one that would challenge me. Most of the time, when I framed it as a challenge for me to grow they would allow me to try it. Since this was something exciting and challenging to me, I enjoyed going to work, I poured my heart into it and would do well and later my EPRs reflected it.
Worth noting: there were several times I was placed into positions I was not excited about. I looked ahead to the finish line and knew the Air Force moves people based on ability. So, I did the best I could and soon enough was asked about another position I wanted. Even in these jobs, I would walk away with some new perspectives and skills. We can learn from any position we are placed in.
2. Invest in others. I am an introvert by nature and I have used this to my advantage. As I network with others, my personality makes it a challenge to ask someone for something. Instead, I have always tried to find ways to add value to them or their workcenter. I would look at what my office did and look for those who would benefit from it. For example, if I was about to turn in some bad parts, I would ask the plane next door if they wanted me to turn theirs in too. It would add 5 extra minutes of work onto me, but save them 30 minutes or more. People remember this.
My aim was not to create a tit-for-tat situation where I would remind them of all the things I did for them. In fact, I never spoke of it again. If they truly appreciated, they would offer to help me at a later date and I would try to think of someone else they could help instead. I never had an ulterior motive at the time, but later learned this was very beneficial in the long run. These same people would praise me to my superiors and that is much better than any returned favor. This gets your name spread around your unit and eventually the base in a positive light. When it came to picking a BTZ candidate or during the strat meeting for my SMSgt package, my name was known in a positive way and I was able to help a lot of people along the way. It was a win for me and for all of those I was able to able. Not to mention, it was not brown-nosing; rather, lifting others up through my service.
3. Never stop learning. It is extremely important to always set learning and development goals for yourself. It is very easy to say after your CCAF or other degree that you are done. We fill this time with YouTube, Facebook, Netflix, or whatever other time-suck draws you. None of these grow you or your potential. Instead, look for resources from the Air Force or civilian world that will make you better in your current position at work and at home and something that will prepare you for your next position.
4. Work/Life balance. Lastly, but most importantly, invest in your family. When I am at home, I do my best to make the most of it. We all know we can deploy at any moment or have to stay late for an exercise. If we take care of our families when we can, they better understand when we can’t.
These four things have been the formula for my career. They were not done to make rank, but to make a life for me I could look back on and be proud of. When we do these things, we make ourselves better and those around us benefit from it. Why wouldn’t leaders want to promote people like that?
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