This is targeted toward the recent news release of eliminating promotion tests for Master Sergeant through Chief Master Sergeant in the Air Force. Let’s get some things out in the clear: The “good ole boy” system isn’t real. We can argue and disagree about it, but I encourage you to read ahead. Its existence might seem real at times, and like any ugly rumor or conspiracy, the more you say it…the more it will become a reality. I’m not saying favoritism doesn’t exist, it’s just not a “real at every base” entity.

I don’t know your opinion on science, but the folks who believe the world is flat serve as an example to me. I’m sure Airmen who are serving or those who have served, who understand how GPS works laugh a bit at the flat earth concept. But, boy there are some people who know it’s flat, and that satellites aren’t real. If we give into the mythical beast of assumption, it becomes an alternative reality. So let’s kill it. Now. Together. It’s your job, as well as mine, to eliminate favoritism and preferential treatment in any chain of command.

Often, when we don’t get what we want or when we can’t understand something, we NEED to find someone to throw a pitchfork at. This is true not only in the military, but in all aspects of our lives. It’s important to accept this natural truth and find ways to constructively confront it and combat it.

The CSAF and CMSAF endorse this move because the Air Force promotion board process works. For the SNCO ranks, the board has always been the vast majority of points you can receive. The argument that no more testing means losing control over your career is also a misnomer. You CAN shape your record. You DO have control. No one is going to take away your achievements and accomplishments.  Let’s discuss how to improve your standing.

First, let focus on what’s wrong with making a post like this. Career-minded people are great! It’s wonderful to have goals and find ways to achieve them… However, folks who get obsessed with careerism might as well live in the upside-down.  If you aren’t moving up for the right reasons, reality will come seek you out.  Often times, it’ll be a bigger problem than you’d anticipate. And if you’re faking the funk, you WILL run out of the energy to keep pretending. Also remember that others may not have promotion goals like you, and that’s OK. Don’t lose respect for those who wish to take their time or those who wish to stay technicians. That’s a toxic cultural norm we’ve created over the years. And it has to stop.

So, let’s say you’ve got the right attitude and the want. It starts there. I’d venture to say that accepting the toughest, most out-of-the-norm jobs often pays the best results. This is true in your workcenter and out. Throughout my time in the service, I’ve been asked to step outside my comfort zone time and time again to accomplish things I didn’t think I was trained enough for, or had enough experience doing. It often meant long days and constantly anticipating solutions for problems that hadn’t even arisen yet. But, it made me aware of the situation at all times and made me present the best version of myself I could!
So what’s the reality? Can you do it? The honest answer is…maybe. Because it’s all about what you put in it. Your assignment or duty title doesn’t dictate your ability to lead. See below for examples.

The advice starts at making goals. 50, 200 and 500 meter targets help me convey this point. Your 50 meter target should be your current job. If you can’t do this well, leading other folks to do the same isn’t going to be a healthy situation. Learn as much as you can and find a way to become a trusted agent for work, tasks, and even change. Becoming the “go-to” expert means you’re going to need to hone your life-work balance skills. Make your influence count! If you don’t have a mentor at this point, find one. They don’t need to be in your career field. Someone who is objective, wiser, and has more perspective than you. The very next rank can also be in this target, depending on your time.

Your 200 meter target should focus on what you’d like to do to help others. Are you active in the development of your Airmen? Do you share your knowledge? If you’re away on leave or TDY, does the mission slow or stop? Are there unit and Wing-wide events coming up that service the Airmen on your base? Is there a promotion social you can be a part of? Could you help to make events like these better? Also are you growing your network? Is there a club for your rank tier, and do you help in strengthening your peer group? These answers take time. Often, lots of time. So, it’s important to forecast an investment in time and people.

The 500 meter target should include educating yourself for the long run. This can include certifications and advanced coursework.  Your goal is to create a pattern of sustained superior performance and continuous improvement. This is not only for yourself, but those you impact. Personal improvement also bolsters your leadership potential. Remember, leadership is not defined by your job title. Leadership is what you do with the opportunities around you. There are a ton of other ways to show leadership, even if you aren’t in charge of the work center or a single person. In addition to taking care of your folks…take care of the boss! Making sure your supervision has less to worry about usually leads to solidifying your followership skills. And that’s paramount to embracing servant leadership.

Lastly, two things often play a part in your journey. Luck and motivation. The right place and the right time is a real thing, and is extremely helpful for some. But motivation will get you past the finish line when Lady Luck misses you.

As an acting Group Superintendent at two Wings, both stateside and overseas, I’ve not only seen, but have been able to take part in voting for Wing awards, Forced Distribution and Stratifications. In both instances, career field biases and favoritism was not shown. No Forced Distributor (read: commander) is ever going to sit amongst their peers and the board president (a General most times at that level), and vouch for a weak record because their troop is their favorite. With that said, if someone is seen as a “favorite” because they kill it at the job, participate in Wing functions, are continuing to develop themselves, and helping their bosses do their job in addition to making sure their team is excelling? Well, that person might be my favorite, too. It’d be clear that they’ve read NCO and SNCO responsibilities in the artist formerly known as the “little brown book” and are embracing Airmanship and Servant Leadership.

We MUST have faith in the system, otherwise it doesn’t work. No system will always be perfect because of the human element. But, by knowing and following the rules and intent, we can make the system work.

If you think the service or your base or your shop is working against you, reach out to your SNCO ranks and ask them to do a records review. It might be enlightening if you haven’t done it yet.

A wise SNCO friend of mine said “Ultimately, if you want to be a leader in the AF, there’s one thing you need to be able to do – lead Airmen. Show that you can do that, and you’ll be competitive for promotion.”

Embrace change and find opportunities in every challenge. Even if the challenge is self-imposed. Just my two cents.

JD & TD