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Deliberate Development

Professional Development for the Military Leader

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Lead With Purpose

“Leaders think and talk about the solutions. Followers think and talk about the problems.” – Brian Tracy

We have all worked with “that guy” who constantly complained about everything. He or she had issues with every policy, where things were located and especially how undervalued they are. Most of us start off by listening politely and nodding along. We eventually make the choice to agree with them and hop on the negative train OR we distance ourselves from the person.

We have also worked with the person who heard a complaint or misunderstood a policy and decided to do something about it. She walked up to the boss and asked for clarity. He gathered data about how to create a smarter solution. We typically see something change as a result of their actions. We either receive a new way of doing things or we gain big picture clarity of why the problem exists.

I have never met a single person who would purposely choose option A and be the complainer by choice, but why do so many gravitate towards that option? I know I have been “that guy” on several occasions. Looking back it was because I failed to do two things: define a purpose and work towards that purpose.

Purpose in this context is not the in-the-clouds version that we can only define after climbing a mountain and sipping tea with the Dalai Lama. This purpose is more in-the-weeds and relates to what we are working towards. Are we trying to master our current role? Are we seeking a promotion? Are we just trying to finish a project?

Once we have a purpose, how are we working towards it? This is where we sort through the nuts and bolts to align our purpose with our actions. If my purpose is to master my current role, watching videos on YouTube or commenting on Facebook posts is not going to cut it. Instead, I need to be reading the regulations governing my job. I need to be learning from my boss and my peers. For this example, you need to ask yourself, “What do I want people to come to me for?” Then find ways to master it.

To put something into action today, think about that thing at work you shy away from. Do you put off writing award packages or some other routine task? You probably do this, because you don’t want to do a bad job. When we are really good at something, we look for ways to showcase it. So, learn how to get better at the other things. Next, ask yourself who the current expert is and ask them for advice. They will be excited to help you because it gives them a chance to showcase their talent. It is a true win-win.

We have the choice of whether we want to ride the negative train to nowhere and complain all day or do something to make our workcenter better. What option do you choose?

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Daily Deliberation: 13 October 2017

Many of us are scared to accept ownership for what is going on around us. I learned day one as a SNCO that I am responsible for everything that happened in my workcenter. My boss was held accountable by his boss for the goings-ons of the flightline and he was doing the same to us. Once I understood this, it was freeing. I didn’t have to wait around for a decision, I just made one. Then I had to live with the consequences of that decision. We have that ability to respond as we choose to our surroundings, we just have to be accept accountability for our responses.

Daily Deliberation: 11 October 2017

Way too often we look at our situations at work or in life and expect everything to change to suit our needs. I have even “stood my ground” on certain situations where I thought my workcenter should alter their policies to fit my needs. “I do all of this stuff, it is the least you could do…” How arrogant are we to expect the world to revolve around us? When injustice is being done, we need to stand up for what is right. However, when it is in the context of our job or environment, we have to adapt. If not, we will find ourselves left behind.

Daily Deliberation: 10 October 2017

We have all had some sort of victory in our lives or careers. Many of us will let this success go to our head’s. This is normal. It is not a good thing, but it is normal. We work hard to achieve or to accomplish something and then it happens. We did it…we are number one! The problem is that we tend to forget someone else is now working to become number one. If we celebrate for too long, we will not continue to grow or advance.

Daily Deliberation: 6 October 2017

I have always loved this quote. Most of us do one or the other: we work for tomorrow and refuse to enjoy today. Or we party like rock stars today and pay no attention to the future. The secret is to do both. Figure out where you want to be in a month, year, 10-years… and then take the small steps it takes to get there. The only thing that needs to change is that each step doesn’t have to be terrible. Enjoy the ride. What good is it to reach your 20-year goal and realize it sucked getting there?

Daily Deliberation: 5 October 2017

We have all seen this one play out on a deployment. You are in the sandbox in a remote area of a developing country with little infrastructure. Mortar rounds are coming over the fence and you have been eating MREs for 60-days straight. Yet, somehow, you and your team make the best of it and find ways to make it fun. We are experts at doing this in crap situations, but suck at it while basking in the comforts of our home units. Seek out a way to make your workcenter fun while you are all working hard…just like you did on that deployment.

Get Promoted Using the MKTS

Are you wasting your study time reading the PDG? I used to read it front to back and take notes as I went. I would finish and reread the PDG at least one more time while spending extra time on my notes. It wasn’t until right before I made MSgt that I discovered the power of the MKTS. In the back of the PDG (the last several pages), there is the Military Knowledge and Testing System (MKTS) chart. This is what the tests are based off of.

There are two charts that explain the level of understanding required and the importance of each topic per rank. For example, A1 means it is “extremely important” to know these facts. Anything with a ‘4’ is not even testable.  The key breaks each unit down per rank and level of study. Looking at the MKTS, you could safely skip all the way to the WWII before you could even expect a question on the material and the first ‘1’ isn’t until the Cuban Missile Crisis.

With just a quick skim of this chart, you can immediately eliminate scores of pages and get a greater sense of what is most important to focus on. From here you can create a much wiser strategy for studying. Common logic suggests that you should know all of the ‘1’s’ at a minimum and then the ‘2’s’ and ‘3’s’.

I know someone who has used the following strategy:

“I read all of the ‘1’ sections and highlight the material I think is important. Then I hand scribe all of those notes onto note cards and study them every single day. This process takes me about a week to read, highlight and transcribe to the cards. Then I move on to the ‘2’s’ and use a different color highlighter. For these, I review on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I typically don’t get through all of these each study session, but I just pick up where I left off the next time. For the ‘3’s’, I use a different color and do the same as for the ‘2’s’ but on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”

This sounds like a solid strategy to me and this person scores in the high 80’s. What strategies do you employ?

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Daily Deliberation: 3 October 2017

I bet if you look back to those tough times in your lives, you will see something that came from it. When we go through a divorce, loss of a loved one, bankruptcy, injury or anything else life-changing, we think our lives are over. In a way, life as we knew it is over, but we found a way to redefine that part of our lives and move forward. Most successful people (if not all) have a pivotal point in their lives where they hit rock-bottom or major adversity and made it through it. If you are going through this pain now, know it is just a season and you will get through it.

My favorite book on the topic is: Resilience by Eric Greitens. I wish our resiliency training was based on this book, it is amazing and a must read for everyone.

The Air Force Leadership Model is About to Change…SNCOs Are You Ready?

**Disclaimer: this post is aimed towards SNCOs; however, all can learn from it**

Leadership has always come down to the people and the mission. Some leaders gravitate towards caring for the mission; some caring for the people and the great ones can operate somewhere in the middle. I may be way too optimistic or even naïve, but I think the top 3 leaders in the USAF are showing signs of this. The SECAF, CSAF, and CMSgt Wright appear to be focusing on the mission as they develop their people. This is going to open doors for us to break this 1950’s top-down leadership model and take our teams to the next level; however, we need to do our part.

I remember having to get approval from the maintenance group commander from another base to release the jet from an impound condition while deployed. He is the approving authority. Here was the process I had to follow. I called the owning base’s maintenance ops control center and told them the status of the aircraft. They took my info and said they were going to route it up the chain. Then I got a call from their “lead maintenance controller” who I again explained the situation too. He, too, said he was going to route it up the chain. In came calls from the maintenance lead pro super at the squadron level, the OIC and the maintenance ops officer (MOO) who each had the same types of annoying and irrelevant questions that wasted more and more time. Finally, the MOO sent me to the MXG’s QA team and they interrogated me for 30 minutes and then added some more stupidity onto the task. They then stated they would call the commander and get back in touch with me. Finally, the group commander called me and was now upset because it was the middle of the night and he was confused on what we did. We talked for about 2 minutes to clarify the message and he gave me the green light.

The whole process above took my entire 12-hour shift to accomplish for a 2-minute call. The funny thing is that the Colonel didn’t need any of the information these other time-sucks wanted. In fact, their actions just confused him. He was in the loop on all of the maintenance actions and investigations we were accomplishing. He just needed to know we were done and the results. Contrast that with how things are done at my current base: we have trusted pro supers who have a direct line to the Colonel. These pro supers know what questions to ask and are on the ground level to see the actions being accomplished. They can relay first-hand what is going on and get approval in a matter of minutes. It is a very effective and efficient model. Why?

Every leadership course I have taken (PME or college) has discussed the telephone game and to be wary of it; however, it is present all throughout our chain of command. The old model of leadership is very clunky and slow. It kills innovation and initiative. Imagine if I was trying to push a new idea through that meat grinder explained above. I would have said “screw it” somewhere along that path out of frustration. Instead, being able to communicate directly with the appropriate decision makers ensures relevant questions are being asked and time is not wasted. Imagine all the other things all of those people in the first example could have been doing in lieu of all that research. I am certain their jobs were not to sit there and wait for me to call them; rather, I was a distraction from their real work.

As leaders we can apply this model very simply:

1) Outline levels of authority: There are decisions we are authorized to delegate to others. Determine who on your team has the necessary experience and capability to make those decisions and define their lane for them.

2) Train and trust team to do their jobs: Once you define their lane, train them as needed with sound mentorship. Then trust them to make the right decisions. Encourage them to repeat this process with their team as well.

3) Follow-up and communicate: Follow-up with them often to see how the process is going. Discuss their decisions with them and make sure their decision-making process is more than coin-flipping. Talk to them about what you are working on and probe them for what they are working on.

There are going to be a lot of changes in the Air Force as our leaders start to eliminate waste and begin to allow us to lead our teams. We need to be ready and show them that SNCOs are not afraid to make tough decisions and we can create a pipeline of leaders who are capable of doing the same thing.

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