Over the past month, I have been seeking one-on-one opportunities to serve others through mentorship. I have seen a few themes repeat and one that I have found myself talking about the most is scope. Many of us in the military are looking for more responsibility and opportunities to help others or to run bigger teams.
Sometimes it is for promotion consideration and to look better on paper. These requests are typically very easy to spot. However, most of the time, people want to take on a new challenge or they think they can solve some of the problems they see at the next level. On my team we have a lot of very talented NCOs and only a handful of “leadership” duty positions. Not everyone on the team will get a chance to hold one of these spots, but all of them have the opportunity to develop leadership experience.
Not sure if I ever talked about my rank on here, but I am a SMSgt and most of those on my team are SSgts and TSgts. Rank has its purpose and is needed for structure, but rank doesn’t mean I am a better leader than another. The true difference between a SSgt and a SMSgt or even a Chief is their scope of responsibility. Example: A SSgt on my team is responsible for the nuts and bolts of a program, they are responsible for perfecting their teaching skills and caring for those in their class. I have the same responsibilities, but on a larger and broader skill where I look after the processes of the programs, developmental milestones for the instructors and overall welfare of all of the students.
Leaders at every level touch the same things in an organization, what makes those with higher ranks different is their experience. I would not be effective at monitoring the process if I had never been a ground-pounder in the past. Starting there, I learned what could happen in different situations and what worked and what didn’t. Then as time went on, I became better in some areas and was able to expand my scope. It wasn’t the stripe that made me a better leader, it was the experience.
To gain this experience is not as hard as you would think, it just takes some deliberate development (see what I did there?):
Don’t just go through the motions. As we go through our days, we typically deal with issues as they arise. We seek solutions based on our checklists or experiences. What we need to do is to look at why this issue exists and why we chose the solution we did. There is no need for a 5 Why root cause analysis here or to pen a master’s level thesis; just some basic reflection.
Look ahead. Once you understand the basics of what is causing the issues, you can start to see them coming on a little sooner. The more you reflect and look ahead the faster you will gain quality experience. With practice, you will become one of those people who just seems to have it all together and ready for more responsibility.
Gain big picture perspective. I can’t tell you how many times I have thought an idea or decision that was passed down the chain was not very good. Later as I learned more about this decision, I realized it was very smart at the time. For example, a peer set up an event at an off-base location and the venue gave him the room free of charge. When he briefed this to his commander, he said it had to go through the legal office. My thoughts were that this was another stupid decision where these senior leaders are trying to add layers and complicate the simplest of things. Turns out…that is considered getting a gift from an outside agency and could easily cross ethical boundaries (gulp). When you hear something that doesn’t seem to make sense, ask for the reason behind it. You will more than often gain some insight from those who have the experience.
To gain more leadership ability, learn to widen your scope. When you do more opportunities will come your way and you will be ready.