“Why are you putting this LT with me?” is a question I have heard in various forms from fellow SNCOs. To be honest, I have asked this question before too. It took some time at the SNCOA to truly appreciate the importance of my time with officers.
We have all read in the little brown book (AFI 36-2618) and have seen the excerpt about working with and developing officers by sharing our knowledge and experience. However, what does this really mean? I used to think it meant we were to be “advisers” for job related questions and to offer insight into the complex inner workings of the enlisted mind. This somewhat confused me, because I always thought the best way to get the most relevant job-related info or to get a true pulse for the Airmen was to talk to the SSgts and TSgts. But the little brown book doesn’t mention officer development until the SNCO tier (par 5.1.8.). Why?
While at the SNCOA it finally clicked. The entire class of SNCOs gets bused to the officer’s first PME known as SOS. This is a school filled with captains from all over the AF. Every SNCOA class goes there to discuss whatever topics they choose. We were tasked with enlisted development and broken up into small groups. I learned from them that they do not receive much education or training in this area at all from their superiors. Most of what they learn is from their peers or us.
This quickly caused me to flashback to all those times I had a new LT shadowing me and I was more concerned with finding something shiny for him to go play with rather than taking the time to teach. If you think about it, young CGOs are always paired with a SNCO. This is because they are thrust into positions where they have similar or even more authority than a SNCO, but without the experience.
Think about most MSgts you know. On average it took him or her at least 12 years to earn that stripe and even longer for SMSgts and Chiefs. That is 12 plus years of learning their trade, cultural norms, what it takes to be successful in the career field and they have had some trials and errors in how to lead those rising through the ranks. Now, imagine being brand new off of the street and trying to run a shop without any of that knowledge or experience. It would be a nightmare!
That is exactly what our young officers are thrust into and then those who can actually help them learn are focusing on how to ditch them. Rather, we need to be taking advantage of the opportunity being provided to us and set them up for success. They are the ones who will be creating the policies our teams will be bound by in the future.
Almost every time I speak with a senior officer, I ask them how I can be a better mentor to the CGOs in my organization. I have spoken to countless Colonels and even a couple of 1- and 2-star Generals on the topic. All have given the same advice: help them learn their trade and don’t make decisions in a bubble.
Help them learn their trade: Are they an intel, maintenance, personnel, finance, etc? Teach them how what the role of each person on the team is. Show them how the process works and show them how to find the pulse of the organization. Have them go to nightshift and do some dirty work for awhile so they can see what the Airmen are going through. What are the things you look for on a daily/weekly basis that determine how the team is functioning and morale is intact? Show them.
Don’t make decisions in a bubble: This is as simple as sharing the thought process you are using to solve a problem. Instead of doing all the leg-work and creating a plan in your head on your own, think out loud. We place a lot of thought into our decisions, but it appears to be voodoo to young officers when it seems like we make our choice, especially on tough decisions that require some navigation through the grey. There is a lot of value in sharing why we don’t jump on the obvious solution that would solve the problem, but impact those with boots on the ground and that is why you chose X instead of Z.
When we take the time to teach our officer corps the lessons we have learned, we are investing in the future of our teams.