I have been very impatient many times in my career. I knew I had the talent or skills to do the “next” thing. However, I had not yet proven myself. It took work to methodically earn the trust of my superiors and my team until they saw I was capable. By that time, I had grown more in my skills and built strong bonds of trust that they gave me opportunities to prove myself…and I was now prepared. Don’t be afraid to be patient.
Recently, I was listening to a podcast and the speaker was talking about those who want to become rich. He said we try to become rich by doing what rich people do. That will not work. We need to do what they did to become rich. We all want to be seen as an expert in some area so we do as the experts do now. Instead, we need to do what they did to get there. Be patient…you will get that rank you want if you do the work.
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Ironically, I have connected with my team on a deeper level once I learned to admit I was wrong. Although I have grown in many areas and have many talents, I still make more missteps than I care to admit. However, each time I do, I try to learn from them. Most of the time, those lessons come from those on my team. One of the biggest things I learned as a leader is that you are not the end all, be all expert. I am the force field that protects my team as they show off their expert abilities.
Isn’t it frustrating that the very first piece of leadership advice we get is the hardest to apply? We tell our children and our teammates to ‘lead by example’ and yet we mess this up all the time. At least, we think we do when we fall short of perfection. Instead of hanging our heads in shame as a failure, this is the exact point we need to step it up. Everyone falls short of perfection; however, not many know how to get through these missteps. Set the example on how to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and learn from the experience.
I remember seeing an Airman about to break a safety rule. He was clearly caught up in the moment and forgot to grab his PPE and I am willing to bet it was not intentional. So, I reminded him to go grab the PPE. It was for his own safety and it was to help him not get in trouble if caught by a safety rep. His response was an attitude and he forced me into SNCO mode. What could have been a simple, “oops, thanks” turned into him explaining why he was disrespectful and why he decided to break a rule to his supervisor. And there are hundreds of times the same scenario turned out the other way with the quick “oops, thanks” response and everyone moved on with life. When things happen, we need to respond appropriately.
Different people look at things that happen to them in different ways. For example, when some people are about to go on stage in front of a 1,000 people they feel butterflies in their stomachs. Some interpret this as nervousness or anxiety and others interpret it as excitement. Ironically, it is the same physiological effects for both. Our thoughts and how we choose to see things are what determine our emotions.
We chase the next box to fill or check off; however, rarely use what we learn and it is not doing our team any favors. We all look for those little letters we can add to our name or the fancy duty title to prove we are “accomplished.” Achievements and fancy letters, although hard to come by, do not define who we are. Their intent is to show the path we took and what most people with those credentials have experienced.
Think about it: when we are backed against the wall or in a tough situation, we don’t say “go find me a PMP or a MBA!” or “Who has done SEJPME II?!” We say, “Go get Steve or go find Samantha!” We want those who are battle proved when the times get tough, not the person with an 85 on the PDG. In the aircraft maintenance world, we know what jets are more reliable than the others and we cringe when certain ones are slotted against critical missions. They all have the same letters and numbers and were designed by the same engineers, just some are more battle-proven than the others.
I do have many of these achievements on my EPRs, resume and on my LinkedIn, and as I begin job hunting for my post Air Force career, I am sure they will help me to get through the initial gatekeepers to the interviewers and hiring authorities. But I will be the first to admit there are those without the same boxes checked who are much more talented than I am.
We have all had terrible service from military members and civilians who were technically “qualified” based on their past achievements. We all know the difference between an E9 and a Chief and can recognize their experiences are what make them great, not their title. Why then, do we run to the next certification or seminar or rush to get the sexy duty titles? Wouldn’t it be better to push ourselves into challenging situations that take us out of our comfort zones?
We have fostered and created a culture of achievement and box-checking. The only way to stop this is to encourage those on our team to take risks and then to support them in their successes and failures. We still should encourage others to get these achievements because, until the game changes, they are the price of admission in many circumstances. What I challenge you to do as a leader of a person who has attained a new certification or as the person who just attained it is to find a way to use it.
If they just got a PMP, give them a project to run and let them structure it as they learned. See what works for your team and what doesn’t. Some workcenters do this when someone returns from NCOA or SNCOA. However, most leaders ask “so what did you learn?” not, “what will you implement and what can I do to help?” This helps the person who has just put in all of the work and the team to learn something new. What do you have to lose?
What I have experienced in my short job hunt to this point is that it is tough to translate how my experience relates to the fancy letters on my resume because I never officially used some of the things I have learned. Naturally, when we learn something new, we can’t help bringing something new to the table, but we could do much better if we apply more. We can solve several problems at once. We can set our teammates up for future success. We can learn new techniques to help our team succeed. We can hold our team accountable for the training they receive and ensure it is not just time away from work. So many more.
What can you do?
1) Learn. Discuss what is being learned or what was just learned with your teammate. Show this interest in them and expand your horizons as well. When you do this, it should spark some ideas.
2) Implement. Ask them what opportunities they see around the shop. It is hard for me to read a book without seeing ways to use something from it, a fancy degree or cert definitely changes perspective. The key is to take advantage as early as possible. Give them the ability to try something new they have learned.
3) Follow up. Circle back around on a routine basis to see how the initiative is going. What are the lessons learned?
Let’s battle harden the skills of our team so they can be challenged and expand the aperture of those around them.
I am very guilty of this. My whole life I have taken on multiple projects at the same time. I had to learn to say ‘no’ to some and, even then, I still take on a lot. I have learned to prioritize my efforts better. But, still, I am taking on a lot. When I finally get frustrated and choose one rabbit to chase, I am always much happier. How many rabbits are in your garden?