It has been about a year since I took off the uniform and entered the civilian workforce. This process has been eye opening for me and I have learned a lot. One of the biggest lessons I learned is the same one I have learned over and over again throughout my entire life: lead yourself first.

The first text I have ever written on leadership was about my hierarchy of leadership. This is the construct that says you have to learn to lead yourself as a self-leader and then one-on-one leadership before you can lead a team or entire organization. The original document was horribly written, but the concepts are still foundational to my beliefs 12 years later. I learned these principles as a child and then again as a martial artist rising up the leadership chain to ultimately co-lead a school with 250 students, then had to relearn the same principles several times throughout my military career and now once again.

The job and career path I chose was intentional. I did not want supervisory responsibilities at this time. Being a father was priority one. Now, I am only responsible for myself and the product I deliver. For the first time in 20 years, I am an individual contributor again. Within the first week or so, I asked my new boss what his expectations were for me. He simply replied with, “do your job and add value where you can.”

This was pure brilliance. This is essentially what every single supervisor tells their subordinates during feedback sessions and on a daily basis, but few of us truly understand what we are saying. However, if we drive home this mantra, our team will have a basic construct to succeed in any position they are placed into.

Do your job: So many people are busy looking to do so many other things that aren’t part of their job description. They are looking to get the next certification, volunteer at a base event or seek a role in an organization to pad the EPR. This is all good stuff, but useless if you are not able to do your job first.

Effort needs to be placed on challenging yourself in your role. Even if you are a considered an expert, there is still always something new to learn. Set small goals to learn something new each week/month. Once you get to the point peers are asking you how to do things, then you can explore the other things. Even then, if someone else has to “cover” for you, skip the extra stuff for this season.

A way to make things work if you really are passionate is to share the suck. One of my peers really wanted to do a Top 3 event that took him away from the shop for a few hours a week. I really wanted to be at my kid’s soccer practices in the evenings. I took on his duties during those meetings and he took mine so I could leave early to make practice. Don’t be “that guy or gal” who has everyone picking up his slack so you can then add stuff to your quarterly package.

I honestly wish there was more oversight on who was allowed to take on extra roles. We blindly encourage others to do this, but aren’t necessarily picking those who are ready for more. We are picking those who show interest because it is what we were taught to do. I am guilty of doing this too and looking to grow the person without being more creative in growing them in their primary role first. It should be an honor to do some of these things and TRULY an ADDITIONAL tasking, not a get out of work opportunity. I will step down from the soapbox now.

Add value where you can: This is an angle most never think of before but most of us instinctively do it anyways. It looks like this: I am doing my job and see a way to make things better. I fix this problem and now this task is more efficient in the future. We used to do these daily turnover sheets that took hours each day and were useless 10 minutes after turnover. We were the only ones who saw them. One day a friend suggested tinkering with the automated reports generated by the system ALL of the maintenance community used. This not only saved time each day, it increased the quality of information placed in the actual system of record.

We preach these things to our teams, but often don’t see them within ourselves. Being a leader at any level requires us to first lead ourselves. So, do your job and add value where you can.

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