Deliberate Development

Professional Development for the Military Leader


Jessy Martin

Jessy is currently serving in the U.S. Air Force as a senior non-commissioned officer. He seeks to develop others using a combination of his experience, lessons learned from mentors, and inspiration from educational pursuits. Jessy holds an MBA from Washington State University. Jessy's views do not represent those of the U.S. Air Force or the U.S. government.

Airmen Communicate Differently Now!

“I would have written you a shorter letter, but I didn’t have the time.” – Ben Franklin

Interactions with your Airmen who might be more prone to text you rather than call you or stop you in the hallway to have a conversation make interpreting written messages complicated.  The new generation of Airmen serving today are more comfortable with a fire-and-forget communication medium that allows them to multi-task.

We are bombarded by information from a variety of mediums; the internet via social media and news sites, television, and radio.  The key in today’s world is realizing that these mediums become platforms—especially social media.  People can voice an opinion, show support for a cause, reach out to a network of friends, broadcast a live feed, and ‘make viral’ things we believe are funny, sad, controversial, interesting, or thought-provoking.  Our First Amendment rights are more powerful than ever.  Applying critical thinking to the many aspects of a communication or message is more important now than ever.

Think of communication as an exchange of a message from a sender to a receiver.  First, the sender has to take what he/she wants to convey, translate it into a message, and send it to the receiver.  The receiver gets the message and deciphers it.

Here’s the thing; we all have a variety of preconceived notions that govern how we view the world or how we interpret things.  We gain these through experience, education by our parents, family, or siblings.  The same message is deciphered in different ways by different receivers based on how each of them interpret it.

As a ‘peruser’ of information or messages, one must understand that there are a plethora of fallacies that you can find yourself falling victim to.  The key is knowing what intent is behind a communication and knowing that everyone has an unintended bias when gathering and interpreting information.  Consider the tone of the message, who is saying it, what their views might be based on that information.  Understand your own biases when evaluating information and question the information.

We can also misinterpret phrases and meaning because a certain level of interpersonal ‘flavoring’ is absent in written communication.  Called ‘paralanguage’, it is the meaning behind words often expressed in our verbal and nonverbal characteristics.  Reading a text message doesn’t have the same effect a conversation does—sarcasm and humor can be lost.  Even emoticons do not fully convey the intended meaning behind words.

Critical message here; don’t think that your Airman sent you a snarky text or email and get hasty with your response just because you read it that way.  If you genuinely believe it to be an issue, clarify.  Rank can often blind people to a subordinate’s intended message just because of their notion of those junior in grade or because the subordinate is the member of a younger generation.  Don’t let such things drag communication with your subordinates down–you’ll be a more effective leader for it!



Daily Deliberation: 24 August 2017

It can be easy to point out flaws about others and walk away, especially if you have no stake in their success.  Having a ‘me first’ outlook doesn’t highlight you as a leader.  Helping others and thinking ‘we’ means having concern with others and being a stakeholder in their success.  A ‘me’-minded leader thinks of things in how only they think it should be and how it affects them.  A ‘we’-minded leader looks at things from a team standpoint—‘how can I help the team’ or ‘how does this affect us’?  Pointing out someone’s flaws and not extending a helping hand speaks volumes about the kind of leader you are.  Being a ‘we’ leader helps everyone succeed.

‘Differentiate yourself’…what does that mean?

‘Differentiate’ is an illusive word that no one ever really elaborates on when it comes to the topic of promotions.  The reason behind that is as varied as the number of career fields out there—we do so much as a force that it is hard to pinpoint exactly what ‘differentiating yourself’ looks like.

As we examine the climate of the Air Force, it has morphed into one where we are self-focused and always trying to do something to make ourselves stand out under the forced distribution system.  I propose we refocus that energy toward a greater purpose—a purpose you can actually control to weigh in on that forced distribution quota.  Overall, we sometimes focus on the wrong things to ensure we are competitive for promotions—checking our ‘blocks’.  If we are navigating a dark room, sometimes the best way to see our way through that room is by not looking directly at the path we want to take, but catching a glimpse of it through our peripheral vision while focusing our gaze on other points in the room.  A counter-intuitive strategy, but one that works and one that can be applied as a concept toward differentiating yourself.

As an NCO, one of your greatest responsibilities is to develop your subordinates—a fairly broad heading that encompasses several actions.  That is a great place to start and involves a focus not on yourself but on others–like navigating a dark room.  The goal is to focus on others while proving your worth to assume the next higher grade.  A question to ask then, is what strengths do you have that you can pass to others?  Differentiating yourself as a leader means influencing others—how you do that is purely based on your abilities, perception, knowledge and experience.

Do you see a gap in your work center that you have the knowledge to bridge?  Take advantage of it and be the team player that takes responsibility for it.  We all know about problem areas in our workplaces.  As an example, I have a subordinate in my work center that identified an obsolete maintenance training simulator component and worked to correct it.  He actually gained some notoriety at higher command levels because of his diligence—it literally took him a day to do some research and compose a change request for the equipment.  A feather in his cap.  Something out of the ordinary that was not self-serving; he saw an improvement that was needed for him and his peers to do their jobs effectively and he jumped at it instead of complaining about it or wondering why someone had not done anything about it.  Who knows how long that has gone uncorrected until he showed up!  He focused on one thing that allowed him to take another step toward proving his ability to assume a higher grade.

Much of my success has stemmed from influencing others, not a focus on myself.  I had personal goals I pursued but I’ve found through several positions I’ve held that focusing on others has actually helped my career.  While I was never fond of some of the positions I held, I carried out my duties to my utmost because in the end I knew I would take something from those experiences.  I have taken all of my experience and poured it into my current position and its personnel—it paid off big time.  My team won a command-level award for the first time in three years.  I used my experiences to educate and expand what was possible for my subordinates—they carried us as a whole and made it possible to win that award.  I like to think that my experience is my strength as a SNCO managing a section of NCOs, so I leverage it to the best of my ability to help them and the work center.  Imagine if I had a section filled with self-serving people—it would have truly been like the Hunger Games, where people would have simply been vying for the next opportunity to best each other with no teamwork to be had.  Innovation would have taken a backseat to people simply clamping onto the next big ticket volunteer opportunity.

You have a lot more control over your career than you might realize; be bold and step up to the challenges in your work center or use your strengths to pull others up!

Lessons learned from a SNCO: A guide for NCOs

Many learn to be an NCO and SNCO simply by doing.  First, as a SNCO, I learned that I wasn’t just a supervisor of a handful of SSgts, SrA or A1Cs anymore; I had to learn that I was responsible for those within my entire duty section.  It can be emotionally and mentally challenging, something that can be difficult to handle.  You aren’t just looking after 3 or 4 people, a shift, or maybe a small shop; you’re looking after several sections with 60+ people.  Scale of responsibility isn’t the only thing I learned about; it looks good on an EPR, but it comes with its stressors.  You don’t just supervise; you are often shaping people’s careers.

As a SNCO, you become responsible for the actions, successes and failures of many.  You learn that it’s not about you anymore—it’s about pushing your subordinates into the spotlight and teaching them that it’s not so bad to soak up that spotlight.  Your success hinges on your team’s success.  You become the magician behind the scenes orchestrating and creating that environment for success—but you might not be seen or recognized for doing it.  You are recognized when your team shines.  It can be gritty; you may be working after hours if only to make sure one subordinate is taken care of or finishing that award package so that they get the nomination they deserve.  You have to stretch outside your comfort zone and be a disciplinarian at times while also being someone who is approachable.  You have to be worthy of trust but also be at arm’s length and distant enough to stay objective when looking at all under your charge.  Many of these things apply to NCOs as well; it simply depends on your scope and span of control.

Here are a few keys to success I’ve managed to learn over the years—this is by no means all-inclusive and it applies to SNCOs as well as NCOs:

  • Don’t think you need to solve all your subordinate’s personal problems. Believe it or not, that can be tough because you might feel obligated to…at least I felt that way.  Often times you are there as a sounding board.  The best you can often do is refer, give them the lessons you’ve learned when you face a similar challenge, sanity check them, or just listen.
  • You are not the smartest person in the room just because you outrank everyone, and rank is never an indicator of someone’s knowledge or ability. Just because TSgts should be the technical experts doesn’t mean that others do not have knowledge that the TSgt lacks.
  • Just because a subordinate asks a question about a decision doesn’t mean you can’t share some perspective. It goes a long way to share the ‘big picture’ view with your subordinates—situation dependent.  If I am under time constraints or dealing with an emergency situation, I probably wouldn’t have time to share that information—sometimes I really just need something to happen without a question.  Supervisors sometimes get this wrong by mistaking a question about decisions as a question of authority and overreact to that.
  • Know who you are working for. People often get this wrong in the way they approach their jobs; doing things to appease the boss as opposed to balancing the needs of people with the mission.  You should have the confidence and awareness to know when something affects your people and point out limitations in the face of constraints.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions—examine the problem from as many sides as you can. It can be easy to be drawn into one side of a situation; withhold judgement until you get different perspectives to the situation.  People see things one way, others see it another way, and somewhere in the middle is the truth.  Don’t stomp on symptoms, find root causes.
  • Never say, “Do as I say, not as I do”. If you are telling your subordinates that, you’ve already lost effectiveness as a leader.  General Colin Powell once said that the most important lesson he learned was that soldiers watch what their leaders do; “You can give them classes and lecture them forever, but it is your personal example they will follow”.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned; you will never be a perfect SNCO or NCO.  Even after having been a SNCO for 3 years, I still learn things about my leadership style and learn from mistakes I make.  The end goal ultimately is to have a positive, lasting impact on those you lead and make them better than you are.  Self-study is key; learn from others’ experiences and mistakes!

– Jessy

Metrics Don’t Motivate

I was recently standing in a formation when the speaker said, “We met several of our key metrics…”.  Things trailed off after that because my mind wandered to other matters of the day.  While that may have motivated others in the formation of probably a few hundred people that day, I suspect it had the same effect on many others that it did on me.

Metrics, numbers, and graphs do not motivate most people, especially when they do not know what those numbers entail or what they even mean.  What matters more than a regression analysis on a batch of data with a trend line going upward is the tactile, real impacts that people can see at ground level.  Metrics are abstract and aren’t tangible things in many people’s minds.

Impacts are key.  Months ago I spoke with my subordinates at a roll call—while I was still new in my position.  One thing I noted was the environment—I recognized that my subordinates, NCOs, were in an absolutely critical position—they teach young Airmen.  I made the natural connection—their job was to interact and instruct and I noted several instances where a young Airman was left behind in the hustle and bustle of mission generation to fend for themselves.  “Mentor your students where you can,” I told them, “because when they start working on the flightline, they won’t receive such guidance.”  To this day I am uncertain as to whether my words evoked some inspiration, but I was staggered later on by the amount of initiative they took in taking their students under their wings—it continues to this day.  They take ownership and pride in the classes they teach.  It has bred innovation.

What motivates them to take such measures?  Passion.  They recognize that their involvement with the Airmen not only as technicians but as young adults and military members is critical.  They understand their impact at their level.  It’s a matter of building a relationship with a group of new military members.  They don’t just churn out 1,700 students per year through the doors of the schoolhouse; it’s more to them than that.

Don’t motivate people by showing them a slew of numbers—there is no reference point for them with metrics.  Motivate them by emotion because ultimately, that’s what motivation is.  Keep the numbers in the conference room to manage processes, not people.

Only You get Yourself Promoted

BloomWherePlantedI was asked recently, just after I had moved into a new position; “So, where are you going next?  QA Superintendent?  I hear that’s promotable.”

This question had me perplexed.  I had just moved to the new position—not six weeks prior—and was settling in to my new role.  Not only that, but I like my new environment—the absolute last thing on my mind was where I was headed next.  I had reached a rank-appropriate job that felt suited to me for the first time in many years.

In the Air Force, it has been said that once you attain certain ranks, you should be seeking particular duty positions, or duty positions deemed more ‘promotable’ than others to attain a ‘more ideal’ breadth of experience.  So, what happens when strong leaders are placed in positions typically ‘meant’ for ‘slugs’ or ‘slackers’?

Often, people identify problem areas within the unit—maybe it is a place that is typically not where your top performers are placed.  The crux of the issue is that often there are ‘promotable’ jobs that are thought to only be the way to promotion, or at least give one a higher chance for it.  I challenge that view.  Your actions in rank-appropriate roles (in scope and span of control) get you promoted.  Taking a stance that your chances of promotion become higher because you enter a certain role only means you have those numbers and bullets on your enlisted performance report—another form of ‘block checking’.

It is what you do in those roles that defines you and highlights your readiness for increased responsibility or merit for other accolades.

Take an example from the business world.  Nestle, the food and drink conglomerate, built an independent business called Nespresso.  Recognizing that their corporate culture would likely not yield the right leadership for this new unit, they hired a manager from outside the company that had a different style.  Under his leadership, Nespresso took off.  He could have tried to become the CEO of Nestle instead of a subordinate business unit executive, but he truly excelled in his role and everyone knew it.  That individual was known as the change agent that drove Nespresso’s success, not the CEO of Nestle.  Were he simply jockeying for the CEO spot, he may not have pushed Nespresso to achieve such success at its inception.

Sure, rank should be commensurate with position to make sense, but if a hard-charging new TSgt is placed in the dreaded tool crib as its NCO In Charge—imagine the return on investment.  What kind of positive changes could that pairing produce?  A nearly constant problem area during a unit inspection could be greened up and improved.  We take the wrong view on duty positions and fail to use our imaginations with what’s possible once in those roles.

I currently supervise a cadre of maintenance instructors.  After several of them were passed over for TSgt, I was asked by one of them what they would need to do to get a higher forced distribution rating on his enlisted performance report.  My explanation was simple; be the best instructor that you can.  Get involved.  They are considered subject-matter experts in their respective fields—they could get in on the ground level with analyzing any new trends with aircraft system malfunctions and equipment failures and seek solutions through technical data changes or by bringing it to the attention of an engineer.  Seek out training shortfalls and seek to address them.  Be a liaison, use your resources, broaden your view, and be that connection point to make processes around you more effective.

Don’t forget that you can use your imagination and build informal networks to stay relevant and effective in your job, no matter how far removed from ‘promotable’ it might be.  Many large, successful corporations rely upon informal networks and the insight of sharp people.  It rests on you to make that duty position what it is, especially if you have a lot of freedom of movement in your position.  Take advantage of that and create your own impact.

Mired thinking

MudpitIn the military, we often note that some of what we do is inextricably linked to traditions.  Our rank structure, uniforms, customs, courtesies, and values are often tied to what we’ve always done and that serves to perpetuate our organizational identity as a whole.  While most of that makes sense, we also easily become mired in old ways of thinking.  Those of us that have been in the military for a while know this; traditional thinking that was stuck in one direction from when I enlisted inevitably changed over time.  I even acknowledge that as a senior enlisted leader, I look at some ideas and scoff at them without really giving the idea its due diligence.

Looking at things as an MBA candidate, I also can’t help but see that older ways of thinking are what hold back an organization from success.  When you strip away the frills of the military, our core functions are what matter.  Using “this is how we do it at base X” doesn’t seem fully logical, but neither does staying consistently stationary simply because “it’s the way it has always been done”.  Our mission sets change, as do the demands on our people, and those differences and demands are different across the force as well as they are across functional areas.  There are a few barriers to new ideas that I’ll discuss here, although one must recognize that there is an exhaustive and detailed list that could be made on this issue.

Levels of hierarchy and regulation add increasing levels of complexity.  Probably one of the most obvious reasons we get mired in old ways of thinking about issues that face our military is the inherent hierarchical and regulatory environment in which we operate as a military.  When you have an idea about something but do not know how to address the issue, it stops, or even your supervisor is oblivious to the process of highlighting the changes.  Even new ideas are often vetted for relevance through the chain of command, which is time consuming—making any ‘new’ change irrelevant by the time it is even considered.  Or, they are shot down immediately on the spot.  Regulations are often not flexible and they change very infrequently–and there are varying versions of the same regulation.  Newer generations of military members often take to social media for action—an easily accessed arena where they can collaborate with like-minded individuals.  It has also proven in the past to be a medium that can affect change, making it an attractive, albeit controversial avenue.

Senior leaders applying old paradigms of thinking about situations.  I would be the first to admit that even though I am a maintainer by trade, I do not have a fully accurate picture about my career field at the technical or tactical level.  I haven’t turned a wrench on an aircraft in some time.  For me to apply what I used to know to change the environment would be incorrect—I am not connected to the challenges faced today, as they may be different from what I faced 4 or 5 years ago.  Instead, I can involve subordinates that have the technical relevance of today’s environment and make changes with their counsel.  It is also important to recognize that leaders imposing an old idea or frame of thinking into an organizational change or new concept and calling it innovative is not the way to empower others to do so—it cuts buy-in at the lower levels at the cost of making the leader feel like they’ve left a mark on the organization, even though it doesn’t change anything.  Imposing a wanted outcome is not the way to gain buy-in from people; instead it is a more creative way of issuing an order.

It’s simply easier to tolerate the status quo than deal with trying to change things.  Often, subordinates simply throw in the towel, believing that they do not have the sway necessary to make any real changes.  Instead, they get by with the current ways of doing things without having the ability to fully realize any kind of organizational efficiency or effectiveness that is needed to make their jobs easier.  Or, individuals that espouse the ideas are often too mired in current organizational processes or demands, unable to push or champion their idea because they are maxed out.  They will simply ride the wave of changes handed down to them.  Senior leaders can fall victim to the same way of thinking.  Instead of looking for innovation, they often seek unyielding compliance with the status quo even when it may not make good sense in the current organizational context to do so.  This is often done to simply appease the appearance of good organizational practices instead of doing the work to really examine things as they are and identify the regulatory shortfall.

When all changes are always dictated from the top levels of the organization, people stop thinking creatively.  People often wonder why ideas do not emanate from the lower echelons.  This is because they get so used to their leaders and managers dictating what WILL happen that they believe their voices will not be heard.  This smothering effect can also create turbulence in the organization when changes are needed and silence other kinds of communication highlighting important issues.  It also creates bottlenecks in action because no actions are taken immediately without explicit guidance from the top.  This symptom also leads to a path of creating an immature organization where no real ownership exists because no one can take ownership for any changes or ideas, no construction of real commitment to the organization.

Knowing what organizational changes are needed, but not really knowing how to go about changing anything.  When new ideas do bloom, we’ve only armed NCOs with visceral concepts, so their ability to trigger action is limited.  PME concepts are the formal educator of leaders in the military.  Unfortunately, PME is taught in a ‘glass box’ scenario, where the organization is perfect and you face an ideal situation where all that is needed to change things are to unfreeze the current process, change it, and freeze processes or ideas to lock in changes—but bridging that gap from theory to practice is far more challenging than a few paragraphs about a romantic concept.  Young NCOs may not possess the skill needed to push such changes because of lack of operational or strategic experience—and pushing them into the deep end to try to affect changes without someone guiding and backing them sets them up for failure.  Organizations are far more complex and require more than moving a few levers to make changes.  It goes back to understanding what your organization does in some detail, what effects the changes will make, and how the organization will react to them—even so far as to understanding its structure and informal relationships.  Issuing a policy or an order will yield one form of compliance, but it likely will not ensure any level of consistent action if it isn’t constantly reinforced.

These are just a few of the challenges faced by both young NCOs AND senior leaders.  Understanding some of the best ideas are given to us by our subordinates is critical–listen to them.  I was recently given some insight by one of my NCOs; I believe his insight triggered something he has seen as a problem for a long time.  He will likely affect changes to an entire fleet of aircraft because he gave me one idea and I linked it to the bigger picture.  Trust them–they are going to be leading our military in the next decade.

You can’t make a hole in water

a life is not important“Why don’t you take some time off?  You’ve been working hard.”

“If I’m not here, who else is going to make sure this place is running?”

This is a fallacy that many of us find ourselves believing.  Not only is it unhealthy because it can become a source of ‘bad stress’, but because at the end of the day, no matter how much you do, you are ultimately replaceable.  Eventually, we all get replaced and things still move forward.

Gordon R. Sullivan offered this advice to people that inflated their role in the book Leadership: The Warrior’s Art by Chris Kolenda; “When you are beginning to think you’re so important, make a fist and stick your arm into a bucket of water up to your wrist.  When you take it out, the hole you [leave] is a measure of how much you’ll be missed.”[1]

If you think that’s discouraging, here’s a cheeky perspective;

“If Tetris has taught me anything, it’s that errors pile up and accomplishments disappear.”

Think back to times in the military, and even in the civilian sector, when you’ve seen people come and go in your organization.  I can tell you from firsthand experience that it is sobering to realize that you hardly see a difference in how things are taken care of day-to-day as those people come and go.  It makes you question what impact you really have on things around you.

You’re saying, “Enough with that already, I get it, what I do today doesn’t matter tomorrow in the grand scheme of things”.  Wrong.  Well, yes and no.  I used to coin a phrase during situations when my coworkers and I working in aircraft maintenance production management would get too embroiled in work or too ‘ambitious’.  I would say, “There is no such thing as a maintenance hero”.  My point was that no matter how much we accomplished or how ‘on point’ things were, weeks down the road those accomplishments would be forgotten, like water flowing under a bridge.

What mattered was that we moved the ball down the field, moved the organization to a good position; there was no need to attempt to conquer the world in one day.  Those accomplishments are fleeting; you’ll face a different set of the same tasks or challenges the next day.  Strive to do great things, but you don’t need to beat up your people, waste resources, or stress yourself out every day to do that.  It is doubtful you will be remembered for what you’ve accomplished; rather, you are remembered for the impact you have on individuals.  If you are lucky, people will remember you for the impact you had on them and the great things you’ve done.  There are many people that I think about that I’ve encountered in my career that made an impact on me that were ‘just’ aircraft mechanics—and quite a few of them still are.  Their accomplishments may not have been broad and grand, but their impact on me was.  I often remember the personal characteristics of my former coworkers, not what we were doing when we were having a laugh or enjoying the camaraderie we shared.

I would argue that your leadership style, not your control over things or your managerial prowess, will be remembered.  That’s what creates enduring teams and builds connections.  What lasts are the impressions you leave people with.  Even if you don’t have a heart-to-heart discussion with a subordinate, how you conduct yourself and treat them leaves an impression.  People remember things like that.  We all have a 100 percent chance of death; it is likely that we will live on in the hearts and minds of the people that we love or those that we’ve made impressions on.  No one is truly remembered by their accomplishments alone—even those that have done great things in history have gained that legendary status because of the impact they made on others.

In Francis Ford Coppola’s Patton, the closing scene has General Patton and General Bradley walking through a quaint European village, discussing all they accomplished during the war.  Patton used an anecdote to illustrate an important point.  “For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeters, musicians and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conquerors rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children, robed in white, stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”[2]

[1]  Kolenda, C. D. (2001). Leadership: The Warrior’s Art. Carlisle, PA: Army War College Foundation Press.

[2] Francis Ford Coppola’s Patton, closing scene quote.

What’s Real and What Isn’t

disconnected leaderColonel Robin Olds, a cavalier fighter pilot and commander during the Vietnam War, commanded a military installation and flew a F-4 Phantom fighter aircraft.  He often found himself at odds with policies during his time in Vietnam; Washington had implemented what was called the ‘Rapid Roger’ program for generating F-4 missions[1].  The program had been implemented because of an apparent love for statistics—Washington wanted to fly more missions with fewer aircraft[1].  Colonel Olds noted several big issues with this plan.  While the numbers and the concept may have been fantastic, Washington didn’t anticipate what challenges would be faced on the ground.

Budgeting for the war effort was programmed, meaning it was budgeted at particular levels in anticipation of a particular level of activity[1].  He only had so many personnel to work on the aircraft and they needed rest.  Supplies and personnel promised to him ended up not being delivered to his installation.  In particular, the concept Washington had in mind required completely re-configuring each aircraft while also preparing them to fly their next mission and fixing any other unanticipated issues—taxing tasks for his ground crews and creating hazardous situations—and the aircraft was slated to fly a few times per day.  Suffice to say that Rapid Roger stressed his resources to an unrealistic level; his unit was manned, organized, and equipped to provide a certain level of output.  His aircraft had a terrible operationally ready rate of 55 percent when he took control of the installation; it had dropped from 74 percent during the previous month[1].

Colonel Olds did everything in his power to increase his combat effectiveness and utilize his resources while not abusing them; he did it successfully over time with a lot of perseverance.  I encourage you to pick up a copy of Fighter Pilot: The Memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds.

The lesson here is that sometimes as decision makers we can make decisions from a disconnected viewpoint.  Learning how things operate from the viewpoint of your subordinates lends clarity to situations which cannot be simply summarized without that understanding.  While you cannot be everything to everyone and you can’t be involved in every activity your subordinates are tasked with, it is useful to understand the processes, challenges, resources, and skill needed for them to do their jobs effectively.  It is with that knowledge that you can more effectively judge what kind of demands you can place on your subordinates without placing an undue load on them.

Learn what your subordinates do every day, what processes and challenges they face.  Be involved.  There is a balance that goes with that; you do not want to hover over your subordinates, nor do you want to take the task from them and run with it–just observe and ask questions, a low threat visit.  Understanding that ‘bigger purpose’ is a key aspect as well; as a leader, you are often that link to your people, to show them the higher purpose in their everyday tasks.  Colonel Olds understood these concepts well; “I planned to check out all the shops, check out equipment used by the men, look at their supplies, learn how things were put together and taken apart, even examine the gear designed for getting the pilots down from trees.  The base functions were crucial to the success of the mission and the survival of the pilots”[1].

Make sure you know what the realities are in your organization.


[1] Olds, C., & Rasimus, E. (2010). Fighter Pilot: The Memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds. New York: St. Martin’s Press.



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