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Deliberate Development

Professional Development for the Military Leader

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Read More Books Starting Today

bookMy whole life I have valued the benefits of reading. Although, I am such a slow reader, I never really wanted to invest the time it took me to read a book. I would read maybe a book a year into adulthood and this is something I always “wanted” to overcome, but never placed any energy into it. Thankfully, I have finally kicked myself in the butt and stopped making excuses.

I have never met anyone who has stated they wish they read less or there is no value in reading. All of the complaints have always been the time constraint and how there is never enough time to enjoy a book or the other big one is finding a book that is “worth” the time commitment it takes to read. I can sympathize with both complaints and still hear those voices within my own mind. There are a couple of solutions.

The easiest solution to solving this is to take advantage of your current schedule. Maybe you have a 15 minute or longer commute each day. Audiobooks are a great way to consume books. You can get them for free at a library (they do still exist…so I am told) or download them onto your phone. I have recently learned that Amazon has an unlimited source for audiobooks and ebooks for a small monthly fee called KindleUnlimited and it looks very promising. Audiobooks also help to pass the time while going on a run. I would rather listen to a book than think about how much I hate running. A lot of people love audiobooks and just as many hate them. Regardless, they are worth looking into.

I still occasionally enjoy an audiobook, but I have recently taken a more studious approach to reading and prefer ebooks or hardcopy products. Finding time to sit down and read is not as easy, but you will be surprised when you really look at the time you have each day. For instance, I discovered I was reading a lot of news articles or random posts others shared on Facebook or some other source. It didn’t take long to realize a lot of the big news companies and info blogs were allowing anyone post stuff and if you really dig into the person or source they were clearly biased and many were peddling a product or service. When I replaced this time with an ebook break, I was able to get through several pages in the same amount of time and actually learn something interesting.

Another habit my family adopted is to instill healthy reading habits in our children. Every night, we spend 20-30 minutes reading on our own before bedtime. What started off as me trying to lead by example became something we all look forward to each night. This can work for you too. Pick a time out of the day you can control and make it a time to read. You will be amazed at how much ground you can cover dedicating a few moments each day.

The other complaint is about finding a good book. This is a little bit tougher, because we all have our own personal preferences. Some people prefer fiction over non-fiction and vice versa. Some like short stories, some like bios, some like novels and on and on and on. Walking into a book store like Barnes and Noble is somewhat daunting because there are too many choices and unless you know exactly what you want, it is tough. And if you know exactly what you want, the book is probably a lot cheaper on Amazon. So, what do you do?

What types of articles tend to grab your attention? Is there an author or website you gravitate towards? The reason why I am asking is because most websites or authors share books they like. For example here on Deliberate Development, I have listed several I enjoy. If someone who we like to hear from likes a certain book, the odds are we will too. If they don’t have a list posted, email them and ask. Then take their suggestion and preview a few pages at a bookstore or online to see if the tone and message are right for you.

The benefits of reading on our mind are the same as that of fitness on our body. When we do it often, we can really notice the results. Mark Twain is credited as saying, “Those who don’t read good books have no advantage over those who can’t read.”

Have a favorite book? Share it in the comments, in our Facebook group or email me directly and I will add it to our list.

What Should be on a TSgt’s EPR?

One of the most frequent questions I get as the senior enlisted leader in my unit is how an EPR should read. I love getting this question because it means people are looking out for their subordinate or doing their best to improve themselves. For this article I will go into how I think a TSgt EPR should read.

First of all, I don’t think most people ask this in order to game the system and fabricate bullets that do not exist. Rather, they are often trying to find the result from the task that would best set their teammate up for success.

Now, an EPR should not be written to meet the suspense. It should be written all year long and then tweaked to perfection to meet the suspense. If we wait to capture our accomplishments until then, it shows.

Most of what I say is based off of the Little Brown Book (AFI 36-2618, par 4.2.2.) but is often overlooked. Let’s face it, the brown book is a great resource for showing us what to expect as we progress. In the paragraph referenced, it says Technical Sergeants are often the technical experts who are growing as technicians, supervisors, and resource managers. So, we need to actualize this on their EPRs.

Technicians: Look for ways to showcase their expertise. Show how they solved a problem no one else could. Did they re-invent the wheel and remove wasteful steps from the guidance. Their impacts should not be basic and read as if they are simply doing what is expected.

Supervisors: Are they leading people? How many and to what extent? NCOIC of 10-person team who made 300 more widgets than all other teams on base, etc. Show effective leadership and then how are they taking care of their team. Are they submitting awards packages? Did 3 Airmen make BTZ under their watch? Leadership is more than just kicking down walls, it is taking care of the team. The board wants to see those who are ready to be SNCOs and taking care of the team is a great way to showcase this.

Resource Managers: TSgts are often program leaders or managing some side project in the unit. On our team, all of our members have additional duties and a program they manage. What I look for are those who are making the program better for the next person when the torch is passed. Are they improving the process and making the unit better? Anyone can ensure compliance and create a crappy tracker showing how we are “on-track”. However, it takes someone who really wants to own their program to streamline it for the next person.

I know this is not spelling out specific bullets, but the intent is to show how we should be mentoring our TSgts and how they should be looking at their EPR. When they paint themselves in the ways listed above, they will stand out among their peers to the board and to their commanders.

Gain a Space Within a 1206 or EPR Bullet

1206Sometimes, when working on an awards package or evaluation, you just need one more space to fit a word that will make a bullet come together…well my awesome admin taught me there is a way to make this happen that feels like magic. In fact, one of my friends asked me if this was some “Swordfish hacker voodoo”.

Missing an 's' on the last word, but out of room
Missing an ‘s’ on the last word, but out of room

Typically, this calls for an overhaul of the bullet to try and get that extra space. However, there is an easy fix.

1.  Open Microsoft Word or a new email in Outlook.

2.  Type “2009”1206-2

3.  Highlight “2009”, and press “Alt” and “X” key at the same time.  2009 will disappear and a blank space will be left. This appears to be half of a typical blank space.1206-3

4.  Next, press “Ctrl” and “C” at the same time.

5.  Open the awards package or evaluation, and highlight a blank space and press “Ctrl” and “V” at the same time and watch the space shrink.1206-46.  Repeat this for each blank space until to reach your desired effect is reached.

1206-5

I was able to work in my ‘s’ and realized I forgot the ‘r’ in “instr” needed to meet the requirements of my wing writing guide. Most of the time it will free enough space for two lowercase letters. I just learned this trick before the TSgt SCOD and it has saved the day on almost every EPR I have reviewed/written.

Will Course 15 Make You a Better Leader?

I will start this article with the short answer to avoid the “click-bait” criticism: no, it will not.

Recently, I sat on a mentorship panel with a room full of eager NCOs and this topic came up amongst the masses. It should come as no surprise, but not a single person in the room thought this course would make them a better leader. In fact, I am curious if there is anyone out there who thinks it does make you a better leader. Bottom-line is no book or class will make you a better leader; only you can do that.

I have read hundreds of books on leadership, listened to thousands of podcast episodes and sought mentorship very feverishly over the years. My goal was to consume everything I could on the topic because it is a topic that truly interests me. My conclusion after 25 years of purposeful study is others can only give me a different perspective on a theory, a topic, a situation, another person and, most importantly, myself; however, none of them have the power to change who I am. Only I can make that change based on the perspectives I choose to adopt from the experiences I have.

So, what does any of this have to do with Course 15? Everything. I think the material that makes up this course and the material within Course 14 is very good. It is a great collection of subjects and theories appropriate for the NCO and SNCO. It is material taken from countless years of experience and research from very smart leaders and it is packaged in a way for us to understand. The problem is it is just like any other course or book; we only get out of it what we want to.

None of us want to be forced to do anything and this is being forced down our throats…I get it. Because of this, most of us approach the course with the purpose to get it out of our lives. I know that is how I tackled Course 14v5 and 14v6. To be honest that is also how I approached ALS, NCOA, SNCOA and lots of my college classes. I wanted to complete them and hopefully learn something. I admit, none of them made me an outright better leader. They did help me with my introversion and desire to avoid group work, but a better leader I was not.

It never really hit me until talking with this group of NCOs and one said, “at least with CDCs, there is OJT.” This young SSgt helped me understand this from a different perspective. We can easily measure and even quantify tasks required to earn a new skill level. How can you quantify OJT for leadership skills? Do we set up training tasks to deliver paperwork, counsel others, make tough decisions and then measure them? With making these PME courses mandatory at certain year marks, we can kind of measure this a bit now.

The question still lingers…will THIS make us better leaders? Still the answer is no. We need to understand this and realize leaders are forged from their journeys and experiences. Books are not a substitute, but they are a springboard. I love reading chunks from a book and then having discussions with others about what they think. I am ALWAYS surprised by what comes out of this discussion. Still we are not better leaders, but we have a different perspective. Having all of our peers receive the same material at the same point in our careers should help facilitate these discussions.

Do the course. Try to learn from this material that has been collected. Look at the different perspectives and try to learn who you are as a leader. Then reach out to others and ask them how they got to a particular decision or share something you did and ask for feedback. Trial and error are great teachers if you can be open to learning from the results. Finally, you continue to seek learning opportunities and repeat the trial and error process while seeking feedback and repeat, repeat, repeat.

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If Only I knew then What I Know Now!

uncle-rico-picture1‘If I could go back to high school, I would do things a lot differently.’ ‘I would be rich today if I had known how to invest five years ago.’ ‘I wish I would have started working out six months ago!’

Sound familiar?  Have you ever thought anything similar to this?  I think we all have at some point and there is nothing wrong with doing that. It is very important to reflect on life and the things we have done or those we haven’t.  Where it becomes a problem is when we become victims.  We accept the shortcomings of the past as if they are destined to repeat and don’t move forward.

There is another way of looking at things.  Look ahead five years from now.  Where do you want to be?  How do you want to see yourself?  Basically, what are you going to wish that you had started or knew five years ago (today)?  We all have a desire to be successful in certain areas but seldom do anything other than wish.

Once you have a picture of what the finish line will looks like, determine what path you have to take to reach the end. What are those landmarks you must reach along the way? Create your plan to get to each of those points and get there one step at a time. We do this all the time and don’t even realize it. For example, going after a Bachelors degree. This four year degree has specific things required to be completed before we can walk the stage. We have the ability to choose when and where we complete these courses. When we take a course we don’t like or one that is hard, we know it is part of the journey and keep going.

A lot of what we do in life follows a similar pattern. Our time in basic training and tech school was laid out with a finish line and things required to cross it. Our 13 years of elementary, middle and high school. Our military career paths have similar milestones too. This structure is very comfortable to us; however, not as much when we create the finish line ourselves. We get excited and feel accomplished when we achieve a long-term goal, but hate having that pressure placed upon us and that is why it is so difficult for us to set these types of goals on our own.

Now that we understand this, think of that future you (four years from now) and what is the one thing you hope to see. For me, it is working in a new career where I get to serve others so they can grow. My next step is finding an after Air Force career field that would allow me to do this and then research how to get my foot in the door. This is something I picture vividly and when times look doubtful or difficult, I am going to keep picturing the finish line in my mind knowing I will cross it as long as I keep putting in the effort.

If we continue to wallow in the past we will never be who we want to be or who we are capable of becoming.  It is like driving a car and only looking into the rear-view mirror.  Rip that mirror off of your windshield and look to the future! See you at the finish line.

Education Opportunities

Looking for something to expand your mind without jumping into a whole degree plan? Maybe looking for an education bullet on your next EPR? There are some sites out there that allow us to take classes from universities like Wharton, Harvard, MIT and just about any other one you can imagine for free. These allow us to dip our toes in the water and gain some more knowledge on a topic of interest. And I have to admit it is fun saying I took a course from Harvard on my EPR.

I have done many courses from Coursera and have had great experiences each time. EdX is new to me, but looks similar in quality and content. If you want an actual certificate from the university, you have to pay a fee, but otherwise it is free.

Here are the two sites discussed above:

https://www.edx.org/

https://www.coursera.org/

Bullet Writing Tips (TSgt Jeffrey Henebry)

Here is a really good bullet writing presentation and tracker courtesy of TSgt Jeffrey Henebry:

bullet-writing-for-jr-enlisted-final-locked

bullet-tracker

Short-Term Victories vs Long-Term Relationships

bridge“Building bridges is what a leader does” was the advice I received somewhere along the road. This sounded like some common sense advice to me; however, it turns out that not everyone feels the same way. We have all worked with some who will do whatever they have to in order to achieve a short-term victory. Instead of winning every little battle, we need to be focused on the long-term success of our team.

I remember sitting in a morning meeting and listening to our night shift Pro Super almost bragging about how he strong-armed a SSgt into bringing something out to a mission aircraft early. He wanted to look good and have everything ready for day shift and never thought about the ripple effects this could cause. To explain further, this aircraft was not scheduled to leave until much later in the day. The shop this young man worked at was minimally manned throughout the night. The night shift got things ready for day shift and days delivered things to the aircraft for their missions. By having him leave the shop, he caused him to lose an hour of this prep time and made his life a lot harder all for a no-value-added gain.

After the meeting, I pulled my Pro Super aside and educated him on this. Although I appreciated him trying his best to set up his team, I wanted to be sure he understood how this other shop operated. It was important to respect others’ operating procedures. Then we reflected on how we would respond if someone asked us to do something outside of the norm for no real good reason. He walked away with a better understanding…and an assignment.

I encouraged him to engage with this shop and all the others he routinely dealt with on night shift to see how they operate. I wanted him to stop by a different one each night and get an understanding of what they did and what their functions were on the different shifts. I wanted him to do this so he could see the impact of asking for things and so he could build relationships with those working in these shops.

When you engage with someone out of the blue, it is non-threatening and you are more apt to build a stronger rapport than when you are going there under the pretense of a work related issue. I was encouraged to do this by a mentor of mine and this is how I understood how that shop operated on nights as well as how important it was to build bridges with some great people. My Pro Super did very well at building these bridges and even would invite some of these one-person shops to cookouts at the squadron. You feed any Airman and you have a friend for life.

The most important aspect of building a bridge is the long-term relationship formed between the two parties. Because of his efforts working with all of these shops, he actually opened some new doors for our team and we found ways to mutually benefit each other. Our team became more empathetic to the work demands of other people and they understood the importance of generating missions and sometimes we did need things early to prep for a busy schedule.

We need to keep in mind if what we are asking of others is going to add value to the mission or just make us look better. If we become more focused on building bridges and understanding how others operate more clearly, we see that winning small victories with force only serves our own ego. In the long run, we all benefit by working together.

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.

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