We have all seen the ‘yes-men’ and ‘yes-women’ in our organizations who seemingly can’t wait for the next proclamation from the boss so they can fawn all over how great of an idea it is and push it to the masses. I have seen this with commanders and their bosses, Chiefs, CGOs, and every other echelon. It was something I vowed to never do because it actually hurt the organization and it went against who I was raised to be.
My father raised me to be a man of character. This meant being true to who I was and standing up for those around me. This started off as helping others in need and later morphed into being a voice for the airman doing the work at the ground level. It means telling the group commander that you do not agree with the latest plan and “here’s why.” Taking this approach is very likely to anger several people and create short-term stress; however, it is not about our comfort as a leader, it is about taking care of those who make the mission happen.
While reviewing the latest revision of the enlisted force structure, I am reminded of two excerpts I like to mentor SNCOs and NCOs on whom surround me. They are 4.6.2: translate leaders’ direction into specific tasks and responsibilities their teams understand and execute. and 4.6.3: Help leaders make informed decisions. These two areas go hand-in-hand although I wish they were in reverse order. Very often, the boss mentions a problem in our area of responsibility and some offer the answer we think they want to hear or some hem and haw their way around the issue. This is when the boss decides something needs to be done and offers us the plan on how to fix our team’s issue. We back them into a corner and force their hand. They are simply choosing what they think has the highest probability of success based on their perspective and experience. Most of the time, this is the checklist that monitors other checklists, or the other pain in the butt process our team has to endure.
Whenever I see one of these “solutions”, I know someone failed the boss. This isn’t done out of spite, but because WE failed our team. We are placed in leadership positions because we are trusted to lead. We should know better than our boss the struggles our teams face. We should be bringing our plan to the boss that will get to the root of the issue and allow them to make that “informed decision” moving forward. I was once taught the importance of thinking about the 2nd and 3rd order effects of the decisions I make. As we gain rank and become further removed from those doing the work, we need to really think about how our decisions will trickle down and what workload they will create. Too often, we are only thinking about how the decision will affect our workload.
We need to do our part and really dig. I was in charge during an inspection where we took several minor discrepancies. My boss wanted it fixed and now. I could have succumbed to the pressure and created micro-solutions to each issue. “A checklist to review x” only solves that problem right now. In 6 months a similar issue will occur and we will wonder what happened to the checklist. Then we create a checklist to ensure the checklist was completed (true story). Rather, those who surround me dug in deeper and realized a root cause tying most of those write-ups together. This was the fix I pitched to the boss and it appears to have fixed the issue.
What to do when a bad decision is looming? One of the greatest pieces of advice I have received here is to exercise the ‘two but sirs (or ma’ams)’. When I am told of a decision that will impact my team: “but sir, this is going to impact my team by xxx.” If they come back and say they still want to do it, the second but comes out: “but sir, we are stretched thin on these other priorities and the resources are not available.” If he or she still wants to press forward, we get on the same page and follow the direction in paragraph 4.6.2: translate leaders’ direction into specific tasks and responsibilities their teams understand and execute.
Our jobs are not to make our boss’ lives difficult or to argue every decision. We are to be the voice of those entrusted to us and help our boss come up with the best decision.