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Tired of Only Putting Out the Daily Fires?

Not too long ago, I worked for one of those leaders and mentors that we all dream of having. He would push my limits of leadership and knew how to ensure my areas of weakness were being developed. He gave me just the right amount of leash to let me make tough decisions, but not too much that I could bury myself too deep. He taught me so many lessons openly and many that I am just realizing today as the seeds he had planted are beginning to germinate.

After a conversation with a friend about some issues he is having, I offered some advice. Awhile later I was trying to think about where that nugget came from and I realized it was one of those seeds he planted years ago. My friend was telling me about some of the big fires he has been putting out in his organization and feels like he is never getting ahead. He actually related it to running on a treadmill where he is constantly expending energy, but not actually getting anywhere. I have had this feeling many times and have discovered I was placing all of my focus into these big problems and not paying attention to the little issues of today that would become the major issues of tomorrow.

We get into these defensive modes and begin reacting to everything instead of becoming proactive and heading them off at the pass. My old boss is a very tough guy whom I had to brief on the status of his beloved cargo aircraft and he was brutal with his questions and demands. He was charged with the safe maintenance and operations of a large fleet with a global impact so this was understood. Over time I began to realize the things he would hone in on and would make sure I exhausted every resource and prepared for every conceivable question. This strategy worked very well for me and seldom was I caught off guard. Until he did one of those things only a great leader can do; he found the kink in my armor and taught me how to strengthen it.

One such brief, we had an aircraft that was broken and there was lots of buffoonery that ensued before, during and after the repair. I was ready for his questions about this big issue. However, he breezed right over this aircraft and asked me about a seemingly insignificant detail on a mission that left on-time. There was a hiccup in the sequence, but the time was recovered in other areas. I had known next to nothing about this detail.

The lesson was to not only focus on the big things that everyone can see. Not to worry about explaining away the past. Yes, those answers are needed and we need to respond to them; however, if we are only reacting to issues, we will never grow as an organization. We also need to actively seek out the small hiccups so we can work them before there is a major issue.

It is the old 80/20 rule where we spend 80% of our time on 20% of the people, aircraft, etc. The big shiny problems have a way of grabbing the attention of our bosses and thus become our priorities. We need to get ahead of these issues by spending whatever time and energy we have in reserve to see where the next fire is going to start. Eventually, you can get ahead of a lot of the problems and are able to breathe and look to the future more clearly. By investing in this top 20%, we will be effective and have success; however, when we find ways to elevate the other 80%, we will find significance.

Bullet Writing… For Dummies (like me)

Ah, the art of bullet writing. From the very first Air Force evaluation in the wonder years of the late 1940’s to today’s latest EPR form, many have been bested by the arduous task of taking life itself, amplifying it’s quintessence, whittling large narratives and compartmentalizing facts into… A single; three part bullet–with an impact [here].

So, where to begin? Let’s take into account how much weight an Air Force bullet holds. It’s a remarkable statement that can change the tide of a SrA Below-the-zone competition, it can validate those who are, as written, the best performers of the quarter/year and it can make or break promotion recommendations and even promotions themselves.

The bullet formula has many styles; from it’s simplest form of “Act-Impact”, then to a more in-depth and commonly used “Action-Result-Impact”.  Personally, I find the latter to have two parts that are redundant. A result is and can also be an impact.

So we arrive at what I prefer, “Act-Fact-Impact” or AFI for short. Vaguely familiar right?

The end result of shaping your bullet with “Act-Fact-Impact” allows you to write in an active voice. Active voice is the preferred way of speaking as it is direct and to the point. “Airman David ate breakfast”. The active voice is broken into 3 parts as well; Actor, Action and Recipient.

Let’s put it to practice. If Airman David helped with base clean-up, spent 8 hours bagging leaves, cleaned 4 square miles and led his fellow airman in the charge we can extract this bullet:

– Led 4-man team in base beautification; cleaned 4 sq miles in 8 hours–improved image of facilities & compound.

Sure, this is a simple bullet, but it’s exactly what happened. And anyone who reads it regardless of AFSC will know what it means. As we said at the begining, let’s keep it simple. What did you do(act), tell me something about it(fact) and how did impact others?(impact).  Now take this simplistic bullet and fine tune it with a much stronger impact such as cost savings or manpower efficiency and you’re good to go.

A common thought is that this is acceptable:

– Led 4 BSRP Ann/NCO TARPA proj; 6 BMP/JPG/MOV increase vs ABCsec tm–inc prod 500% to USAF std

For your career field, that may be the trend.  It is not acceptable as it isn’t helpful.  Bullets weighed down with catastrophic acronyms and decoder ring secured details may seem important, but let’s be honest. Any reviewing panel previously mentioned that oversee awards or such will start drooling as the grey matter leaks out of the judges’ ears. Keep it simple. For the judges… think of the safety of the panel.

To conclude, these “great works of fiction” or similar language that some have come accustomed to referencing, don’t have to be that.

Just remember, AFI or Act, Fact & Impact. Often times, the best solution is also the simplest.

Cheers,

JD

“You are just Lucky!”

At many points throughout my career, people have told me how I was just lucky and, honestly, I have thought this about others too. Although I am not claiming to be able to explain away the luck phenomena completely, I am going to discuss what is known as the luck factor. Read on if you want to get lucky…punk.

Psychologist, Rick Wiseman is the author of the book, The Luck Factor, based on a decade of research into luck and superstitions. His research found that 72% of the population had a lucky charm or some other superstition they believed to deliver them to lucky opportunities; however, none of these subjects were any luckier than those without a charm. He did find that the two greatest factors delivering “luck” were chance opportunities and being able to handle the misfortunes in their lives.

Chance Opportunities: “Man that guy was just in the right place at the right time.” is something we have all thought at one point. Maybe it is even something we have thought about an event in our own careers. One of my favorite career events ever appeared to happen by chance on the surface, but it was more preparation than luck. I was selected to be a part of a crashed C-17 investigation and recovery effort that received a lot of attention and was an amazing challenge. What many didn’t realize is that I was the third choice out of four people.

The number one choice was our most experienced Pro Super, but he was deeply involved in another project. I was the second most experienced Pro Super and supervision wanted to keep me on station since number one was tied up. The third guy was not trained and the fourth was not trained or capable. By default, I was selected.

The Roman philosopher Seneca had said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Think about some of the moments you felt lucky. These might have been a moment where you seemed to be the only one who knew the answer or you were the only one able to do a particular task. I’d argue that you weren’t luckier than the others, you were just better prepared.

How do you become better prepared for opportunities that may come your way? One way is to go above and beyond. Are you the first person to leave after a training session or are you the one who stays back to ask some other questions? There have been times where I saw peers stay behind and what they learned made them better prepared. When we do the bare minimum, we are no better prepared for an opportunity than the next person.

Handle misfortunes: Our ability to deal with the things that do not go well in our lives is a very powerful skill to learn. I hate to say it, but all that resilience training might actually be useful. We all know bad things are going to happen in our careers. We may be passed over in the forced distro selection, maybe someone else is selected as NCO of the quarter over us, maybe we have to do a short-notice deployment or a multitude of other things. How you deal with these events makes the difference?

No one enjoys when things don’t go his or her way; however, when we realize it is just a season, we can grow and get past it. I don’t know about you, but when I look back to the times I was passed over or forced to make an unwanted sacrifice, I have almost always came out better on the other side. Sometimes just having the knowledge I was able to endure made all the difference in the next challenge I had faced.

In his book, Resilience, Eric Greitens teaches, “not all of us are strong at the broken places [misfortunes]. To be strong at the broken places is to be resilient. Being broken, by itself, does not make us better.” We have to reflect why we weren’t chosen. Was it because we were not the most prepared? Was it because no one knew we had such talents? Was it because we were whining and spreading negativity about our misfortunes? When we learn from our experience, we are better prepared for future opportunities.

What Causes Conflict?

“Can we…can we all just get along?” If you were around in the early 90’s, you might remember the press conference where Rodney King spoke these famous words trying to motivate the stoppage of the L.A. riots. This was a huge statement, because the riots were in support of him. What would drive a community to violence? Why have conflicts at all?

The L.A. riots of 1992 were in response to the justice system not prosecuting four police officers caught on video excessively beating Rodney King. Most of the nation perceived this as a racially charged crime against Mr. King and when justice was not served, the city went crazy and began looting and destroying anything in their paths. The trial was the catalyst for this outburst, but it was not the root cause. The root cause is something we are still struggling with 25 years later: respect for others.

Disrespect for another or the perceived disrespect instigates conflict. We can only take so much before we lash out at others. Think of the last argument you have had in your work center or home, it wasn’t over the fact you didn’t put down the toilet seat or refill the printer. That was the catalyst and the root cause is something centered on respect. We have to take a step back when someone lashes out at for something that seems completely trivial and diffuse the situation.

If you are their sounding board or verbal punching bag, excuse yourself from the situation and say everyone needs a moment to calm down. Once the emotions settle, reflect on what could be the root cause of this. Then reengage with the person with the intent to talk things out. You should be in full-discovery mode where your goal is to get to the real issue at hand. Only then can you solve it together. The key is to detach yourself from the situation and not take any of the feedback or criticisms as personal attacks. This is extremely hard as we are not wired to be open-minded while being attacked.

Remember the key to resolving conflict is finding the source of the tension. Even if we think the other person is blowing things out of proportion, it is still their perception that things are a certain way. After all, isn’t perceiving their viewpoint as stupid the same thing? We have to be willing to listen to others before we can expect them to respect us.

(To learn more about conflict resolution, check out the book, You Can’t Beat Me!)

After the Air Force: Career Planning

A few years back I had applied for the TERA (15-year retirement) program the Air Force was offering in order to draw down the force. The numbers did not work in my favor and I was not selected, but I learned a valuable lesson: I was not as marketable as I thought!

With the experience I have had and my level of education, I was expecting employers to line up and start a bidding war over who was worthy to have me on their team. This did not happen and, in fact, I learned I lacked the minimum requirements to even apply to some of the positions I wanted. After I took a step back and allowed for a moment of self-reflection and clarity, I discovered I had prepared myself for what I had imagined others wanted instead of actually was required for particular jobs.

For example, I was looking at a job to become an Operations Manager at a manufacturer in the local area. I blew all of the basic qualifications out of the water and was probably a touch over-qualified in some areas…except for experience writing SQL queries. This position required documented experience in SQL to even apply. So, a job I could have been very good at, was not even an option for me anymore.

The good news is all that you need to know in order to prepare for your dream job is very easily accessible. There is an easy fix for this and it involves Google and foresight. If you have a good idea of what you want to be when you grow up, search for jobs. Read the descriptions from various companies and then seek ways to become qualified in those areas. Here is the job description I described above:

Operations Manager Job Description
Operations Manager Job Description

We need to do this before we are actually looking for a job. Then it is too late to get 5+ years experience, or a SQL certificate. Instead of focusing on the things I thought would make me more marketable in this area like a Six Sigma cert, I could have applied my resources where they needed to be.

One other pitfall we fall prey to is not thinking about where we will be in life when we decide to move on. For example, many maintainers I have worked with over the years said they wanted to use all of their maintenance experience and work for a civilian airliner. What they didn’t consider at 18 was that when they retired at age 38, they wouldn’t really want to be toting tool boxes and crawling in landing gear like an 18-year old.

Instead, look at those who are about to retire and look at what type of managerial role they have and how it could translate to the real world. Then plan to prepare yourself for where you will most likely be in life at that point. Instead of banking on manual labor, are you going to be looking at management jobs? Then check the boxes for that job.

Thankfully, I was denied TERA and it allowed me to learn these lessons in time to prepare for my 20-year retirement and the future career I want. Please, learn from my potential misstep.

To DSD or not to DSD, That is the Question

air_force_air_education_and_training_command_instructor_badge_mirror_finish_7131_2_5de06024-2010-4cb9-8e7b-b30786aed532_1024x1024The Developmental Special Duty (DSD) selection cycle is upon us yet again. There are many fears and hopes associated with the possibilities of being selected. Speaking from someone who held one of these positions in the past and as a current field training detachment chief, I would like to share some of my experiences.

Last week, our Career Adviser put together a briefing for those who are interested in the process and what each of the 10 DSD career fields had to offer. He had representation for all 10 career fields and I was fortunate enough to be able to speak about my experiences as a tech school instructor. Ironically, all of us had very similar experiences before, during and after our tour in the DSD.

The general theme was that everyone had reservations about getting outside of their comfort zones to do something completely different from their peers in their primary AFSC. However, once they got into that environment and saw the impact they could have on another’s life and career, they were excited. And afterwards, they were much better prepared to do great things once they returned to their primary career field.

My personal experience as a tech school instructor was from 2004-2008 at the field training detachment in Charleston. Then we had to compete for instructor slots and interview with detachment leadership. They chose who they thought would be the best fit for their teams. Our force was mainly voluntary with the exception of a few non-vols. All of the instructors had to learn how to teach and we all had additional duties running major programs for the unit. We were trusted to manage our own schedules and it forced us to become good at time and task management.

I went from barely being able to manage my daily schedule to being able to manage the monthly schedule of my 8-member team with relative ease. This alone was an amazing skill to carry with me back to my career field. Not to mention, all of the presentation skills I had learned, the amazing people I had rubbed elbows with over the years, and confidence knowing I could take on something outside of my comfort zone and do well with it.

Another huge difference from then and now is the perception from leaders in the units about those filling a DSD slot. When I came back to the flightline, I was accused of “being on vacation” for the past four years and I should expect the first deployment that drops. Nowadays, that has changed as most units have someone in senior leadership who was a previous DSD person and recognizes the value of the returning member.

Also, I do not have any official stats to back this up, but most of these people do very well with forced distribution when they return. Some of this is because they usually return with a CCAF in their primary career field and a second on in the DSD field. Most of it I suspect is from the feedback I receive on a routine basis from units where my instructors return to about how awesome they are. I wish I could claim some credit for this, but the truth is, they have just spent four years with others who are working their butts off and trying to improve themselves. This is contagious and takes on the “iron sharpens iron” feel. By the time they leave, they have mastered the management of their own lives.

If you are fortunate enough to be selected by your commander for vectoring into one of these positions, you should feel honored. This means your leadership sees you as a leader of others and sees some potential in you that you might not see. Out of the 15 DSD slots at our detachment there are about five who were chosen without volunteering. They all love their new gigs and one person actually separated after his time to pursue teaching.

If you are selected by your leadership, feel honored. If you are fortunate enough to choose whether to be vectored or not, choose DSD. It was the one job that set me up better for my career than any other.

 

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.

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