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Professional Development for the Military Leader

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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.

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

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