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Deliberate Development

Professional Development for the Military Leader

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Career Success

Daily Deliberation: 20 June 2017

I love this idea. Not because I have hopes to become famous; rather, I want to master my craft to the point others respect the effort that went into it. When I watch those on my team teaching young Airmen, it is like art seeing how they present the material. Watching the Pro Supers on the flightline guide the masses through large formation exercises and make tough decisions in a timely manner, is something very few can do and takes years of preparation. Think of those you look up to and find ways to master your craft to match or surpass them.

‘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!

Daily Deliberation: 14 June 2017

When we are starting out, we are not afraid to fail. We even have the “I’m just an Airman” mentality that gives us a pass for making simple mistakes. However, we get to the point where we are good at our jobs and others recognize our talents. We become the go-to technicians and have a reputation of excellence. It is here we become afraid to take new risks. “What if we fail? People will think we are not the best anymore.” Truth is, there is someone coming behind you not afraid to take on new challenges and they will soon surpass you. Remember you are successful because you weren’t afraid to fail in the beginning, not because you never failed.

The Level Up Mindset

“If you’re just here to get a black belt, buy one in the gift shop and go home. If you are here to earn a black belt, class starts in 5 minutes.” This is what we used to say to new students who enrolled at the Tae Kwon Do school where I taught. We wanted students committed to learning and earning their next belt and not those looking to simply level up. The Air Force uses a level up model and it is up to us to make sure it is used properly.

Think about your first day out of tech school when your supervisor handed you your 623’s or showed you your TBA tasks required for 5-Level upgrade and gave you a time frame to complete it. Most people take this list as a challenge and try to learn all they can. It even becomes a competition between peers to see who has the most tasks or toughest tasks signed off first. It reminded me of playing a video game.

In video games, we look for the fastest and easiest route to level up. We all knew where the “warps” were in Mario and how to get extra lives in Contra and where all the Easter eggs are hidden in all of our favorite games. We wanted to beat the game. Why? We can quantify levels and victories. We can say, “I am 80% complete for my 5-Level tasks.”

It is much harder to articulate the quality of skills; however, we all intuitively know each others ability. For example, we talk about the person who is talented at their job by saying, “if you need a good panel guy, go grab Mike.” We don’t say, “ok we have a problem, I need someone with 99% of their 5-Level tasks completed.” We seek quality, but chase quantity.

This is a tough thing to beat as we all have to answer to our bosses about the status of our trainees. On a flip note, we all have to answer for the quality of our trainees too. I spent time each morning explaining a QA fail or mistake made in our workcenter to my boss. Many of which could be traced back to a level up mentality. I rarely was questioned when a true craftsman did something amazing that could only be accomplished after years of mastering their craft. Why? Because we are trained to think about things that can be measured.

If it’s measured, it matters. How else could our leaders manage a 500+ person squadron without metrics and watching trends? This is why it is up to us as to inspire our teams to value quality and recognize those mastering their craft. We need to be more involved in the development of our 3-Levels in upgrade to ensure they are learning the tasks and not just checking them off of the list. It is not likely our level up system will change anytime soon, but we can control the quality of those on our teams.

Daily Deliberation: 11 June 2017

I am very guilty of this one. I have so many ideas for stories, courses I want to build, professional development products I want to create, and not to mention the things I want to do with my family and friends. However, just having an idea doesn’t do any good if we can’t get it out of our heads and place it in motion. The few times I have been successful at this is when I was deliberate in putting those tasks on my calendar and vowing to work on them at those times. Ideas without plans are like lost treasures with no map. Don’t deprive the world around you from the great things you are capable of and draw your map today.

Daily Deliberation: 9 June 2017

We are all born into different circumstances. In life we get dealt different cards. Sometimes we get a great hand to play and other times we don’t. This is not what makes us great. What makes us great is what we do with the gifts we are given. When we embrace our gifts (no matter how big or small) and use them to impact those around us and to enrich our own lives, only then are we truly great.

Daily Deliberation: 7 June 2017

Most people would argue they are not ignorant or certainly not making a choice to be ignorant; however, most of our Facebook feeds would disagree. We share stories we have not verified because they support a belief we have. We know almost all news sites and many websites are prone to “fake news” or spinning a story to support their narrative and yet we eat it right up. Then we spread it to our family and friends in an attempt to be the first. Dr. King warned us about this almost 60 years ago as did many others throughout history. Take the time to become informed on the facts of the story and not just on how it makes you feel. When we drive with our feelings, we allow them to forge our realities.

Daily Deliberation: 3 June 2017

Think about all of the times you have failed. I know all of my failures have taught me two things. First of all, everything is going to be ok as I have survived each failure. Secondly, I have learned from my failures what not to do next time. Some failures have been bigger than others, but each scar of failure is a reminder of a career and life where I took chances and grew.

Daily Deliberation: 1 June 2017

I was once doing some computer work in a common area of my unit. There was a group of individuals who were telling war stories about all of the tough tasks they had done in the past. Later when asked to go out to a job, they had a million excuses. People talk about the past to feel better about not performing in the present. Appreciate each feather you have in your cap and remember you have to work to earn more.

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