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Deliberate Development

Professional Development for the Military Leader

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Leadership

FITS: Faith In The System

“You have got to have faith in the system, Joey,” was something told to me a few occasions as a  young NCO/SNCO. The little blue book (core values book) that used to circulate along with the little brown book had mentioned this phrase under the section for Service Before Self. To be honest, I always felt this was a cop-out statement and never did anything for me except question my faith in the system.

To have faith in someone or in something, there has to be some sort of foundation. For example with religion, I had a moment of clarity and realized there was something bigger than myself and decided to place my faith in God. The moment of clarity was my leaping point. With people, it is the same thing. We have faith in those who we trust based on previous experience or at least in those who have not scarred us in the past.

In the military, we do need to trust the chain-of-command on many things. If we questioned every decision or looked for background on every policy, we would never move forward. However, it is the chain-of-command’s responsibility to clearly communicate their direction the best they can. From my experience, they don’t do this very well. The commander makes her decision based on the many conversations and advice provided with her staff of officers and SNCOs. Each of them clearly and intimately knows the details of the decision. Then for whatever reason the background info stays with them and only the decision or new policy is passed on to the masses.

“WTF?”, “Why are we doing that?”, “This makes no sense!” These are all things that were said to me as a new SNCO. After I did some digging, I would learn the background and then pass on the WHY of the decision. Even if it was still an unpopular policy, the team always appreciated being told why we were doing this. No one ever heard, “just have faith in the system,” and thought, ‘well, that was all I needed to hear before going on 12’s and rearranging my family life.’ Especially, when the same people who offer this advice would never accept it for themselves in their position.

Ironically, this statement falls under the Service Before Self section as I feel it is one of the most misunderstood core values. We look at this core value as a ‘get out of jail free’ ticket for supervisors. “We need you to work this weekend…remember Service Before Self.” In reality, service is a vital pillar in the defense of our nation. Our entire military does not exist if we are not willing to serve. We serve something larger than ourselves or any one person; we serve a legacy, we serve to honor those who came before us, we serve to protect the future of those who will come after us.

This is why we joined the military and continue to serve. Service requires a sense of purpose and show of faith. This does not come from the bottom of the organization up the chain; it comes from the top down. Real leaders serve their people and most of the leaders I have worked with and for do the hard stuff extremely well. They stay late, take work home and even sacrifice their own desires to advance their teams. However, they often forget or forego a critical step to keep this faith alive: communicating purpose.

They put all their efforts into solving a problem for the masses but fail to share important info with the team. It is the equivalent of running a marathon and then stopping right before the finish line and saying to the officials to have faith you could have crossed it. Those who will be impacted by policy should be respected enough to get the background and take a blind leap of faith.

After Reading this, You Might Want to Unfollow Me

Over the past year, we have all seen a post on social media that starts off like this or with a “I am ready to clean up my friends list soon.” I see statements like this as pure buffoonery. Nothing more than the childhood version of ‘play my game or I am going home.’

I knew kids like this when I was 7. We had to play their game or they would go home. Even then, I thought this was the stupidest thing ever. “Well that sucks, because I am sure we could find something we all want to play.” I would advise them and then the other kids would discuss options. Usually the “un-friender” would end up joining the conversation and we would work out some compromise and play something we could all get behind. We found common ground.

It was a ridiculous tactic then and even more so now. We have somehow forgotten how to seek common ground with others. We have abandoned the ideal that it is OK to have different opinions from another. For some reason, this is a foreign concept to us now as we have grown into keyboard ninjas on social media. Stuff we would not say in person spews onto our posts or the comments of others. It is rather insane to me.

The latest thing that has me scratching my head is Uber CEO’s, Travis Kalanick, decision to leave the President’s business advisory council. People were campaigning to delete Uber because his presence on the council insinuated he supported the POTUS. He became afraid and left. It is hard for me to judge him too harshly because I don’t have all the details and his responsibility is to protect his employees. I am judging those who put the pressure on him and the collective mindset of the masses and, ultimately, the long-term impact.

He feared the backlash and apologized to his team and customers. Then he distanced himself from the Trump administration. Personally, I would rather have a boss who had a voice in the future of business in our nation. If some regulation was about to impact Uber, he could have a voice, but now it is gone. This would be like a state saying they are no longer having their senators go to the Hill and vote on matters affecting the country. But this is somehow an acceptable mindset this day and age.

We post our opinions and feelings on social media and they are polarizing from the opening line. “If you believe Trump is good, you’re a moron.” or “If you think Trump is bad, you’re a snowflake.” Then we spread these posts like wild-fire. I am not sure why though. No one has ever read one of these articles and said, “Wow, I really am a moron. Maybe I should change my ways.” Instead, we jump into the comment section and blast the poster and continue spitting venom.

First off, we need to take the advice that has been around for ages to not discuss politics or religion in an open forum. This is age-old advice. Mark Twain (who lived in the 1800’s) once said, “in matters concerning religion and politics a man’s reasoning powers are not above the monkey’s.” Bottom-line, your post about x-y-z is not going to change anyone’s thoughts or opinions. They are ingrained within.

Then there is the matter of the image you are portraying. Many employers admit they are stalking you on social media before they consider you employing you. Would you want to work with someone who spreads negativity?

My next point is more of a request. Please, stop spreading junk. Instead of calling the other side dumb, seek to understand why they feel that way if you really must discuss politics. I know that there are very smart, kind, and humble people on both sides of the aisle. If I am going to talk politics, I would prefer to hear their reasoning and not just recycled hate from news outlets that are biased.

Lastly, we are all in this together, wouldn’t it be better to seek a common ground?

 

 

Metrics Don’t Motivate

I was recently standing in a formation when the speaker said, “We met several of our key metrics…”.  Things trailed off after that because my mind wandered to other matters of the day.  While that may have motivated others in the formation of probably a few hundred people that day, I suspect it had the same effect on many others that it did on me.

Metrics, numbers, and graphs do not motivate most people, especially when they do not know what those numbers entail or what they even mean.  What matters more than a regression analysis on a batch of data with a trend line going upward is the tactile, real impacts that people can see at ground level.  Metrics are abstract and aren’t tangible things in many people’s minds.

Impacts are key.  Months ago I spoke with my subordinates at a roll call—while I was still new in my position.  One thing I noted was the environment—I recognized that my subordinates, NCOs, were in an absolutely critical position—they teach young Airmen.  I made the natural connection—their job was to interact and instruct and I noted several instances where a young Airman was left behind in the hustle and bustle of mission generation to fend for themselves.  “Mentor your students where you can,” I told them, “because when they start working on the flightline, they won’t receive such guidance.”  To this day I am uncertain as to whether my words evoked some inspiration, but I was staggered later on by the amount of initiative they took in taking their students under their wings—it continues to this day.  They take ownership and pride in the classes they teach.  It has bred innovation.

What motivates them to take such measures?  Passion.  They recognize that their involvement with the Airmen not only as technicians but as young adults and military members is critical.  They understand their impact at their level.  It’s a matter of building a relationship with a group of new military members.  They don’t just churn out 1,700 students per year through the doors of the schoolhouse; it’s more to them than that.

Don’t motivate people by showing them a slew of numbers—there is no reference point for them with metrics.  Motivate them by emotion because ultimately, that’s what motivation is.  Keep the numbers in the conference room to manage processes, not people.

Are Leaders Puppets?

The recent inauguration of our 45th President, Donald Trump, has brought about a mixture of opinions of what type of a leader he should be or the type he will be. Many say our elected officials are just puppets who should be toeing the company line and doing what the majority of the population wants. This got me thinking about the leadership culture I have seen in just about every area of our lives and I disagree 100% that a leader should be a puppet and do what the masses desire.

If we were to lead our units this way, every Friday would be a half-day. We would not do any of the menial tasks no one likes to do. And morale would sky-rocket…for a period of time. Until nothing got accomplished, the mission would falter, the need for our workcenter would be null and void and we would be living in a van down by the river. If we as a nation got everything we wanted, it would be like the scene from the movie ‘Bruce Almighty’ where everyone won the lottery and the city fell to chaos.

Routinely, I will ask my kids what they want for dinner as I am making my shopping list for the week. They are both smart, health-minded kids and neither of them has ever not included pizza or a dessert. We don’t lead our homes like this, why should we lead any team like that? If I were to simply lead by giving in to the demands of the masses, my area of responsibility would fail. Leaders are put in place through appointment or democratically because they are seen as someone who has the best interest of the people and mission in mind. We need to advance the mission and, at the same time, fulfill the legitimate ‘needs’ of the team, not just provide items on their wishlists.

We do need to listen to the masses and get a pulse for the organization. There is never a one-size-fits-all approach to leadership and we have to dig into what the constraints and needs of our team are. This involves getting into the weeds a bit to learn their struggles and what is needed to enable them to succeed. This is how leaders see the whole picture of their AOR and can make decisions for the betterment of all.

I have been part of many teams where I thought I knew what was best. I would petition to my leaders to bend to my will. I would even leverage the productivity of our team to sway their opinion as if to insinuate that we had it all figured out. Almost on every occasion, I was humbled when shown the big picture and the effects my “plan” would have on the whole organization. I am not suggesting for leaders to not question their chain-of-command, because it is important for us to let them know our concerns and things they may not have considered. I am suggesting that we strive to see the big picture and not assume the masses have the best answer.

As for President Trump, I hope he fulfills his promises of not giving in to the status quo and that he is able to listen to the masses and make decisions based on what is best for our country. I will not agree with all of his decisions and that is okay; however, no matter what he does, we all have some control over our own AORs and need to make the right (not the popular or easy) decisions to move our team forward.

Servant Leadership

Today our nation honors a great man: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was able to open the eyes of our country to the ways other Americans were being treated. He challenged the cultural norms that had been in place and forever changed the face of civil rights for millions of people. He did all of this by influencing others with a message of love and peace.

I remember reading about how blacks were forced to use different facilities and not even permitted into other facilities back in those days and I felt angry and ashamed. How could we beat our chest as a great super power and not have the strength to reverse an archaic mindset. I tried to imagine how I would feel if my family was treated that way. I certainly do not think “peace” or “love” would be in my vocabulary.

Dr. King displayed what leadership and integrity truly are. He knew people were the same regardless of the color of their skin and wanted everyone to share his dream of one nation. He knew the nation needed to be united even though they may not have wanted to be. To accomplish something of this scale requires a servant leader. This is a foreign concept to many people and this style of leadership is not discussed in the PDG or even the Leadership Doctrine of the Air Force.

Servant leadership does not sound sexy; however, those who serve their teams are the most influential leaders. This style of leadership calls leaders to serve their team’s needs not their wants. Many confuse this style of leadership as being soft pushovers. In reality, it takes more strength than other styles. Servant leaders have to be humble enough to listen to others and seek out their legitimate needs in order to fulfill them.

When leaders lead by flexing their power over others, they are commanding the bodies of their teams. Their people are with them because they are following orders. We have all worked for the boss with the “shut up and color” mantra when suggestions were made. Their ego could not allow for another to have a suggestion or offer an opinion or state a need.

“Call them in from their day off,” was the direction I was given when our manpower was low one particular weekend. I used my imagination and found another way to get things done and never made the call. When I briefed my plan I was questioned about if I was afraid to be a NCO and make the tough calls. My reply was a question to them about how they liked giving up their time off. This leader was more concerned with flexing his power rather than taking care of his team’s need for rest.

When a leader is willing to go the extra mile to protect your needs and to remove obstacles from your path, you can focus on the mission at hand and not be afraid of the consequences of challenging a power hungry boss who has forgotten the mission is not about them. Dr. King knew this and inspired the nation as he represented the need for unity. Groups like the Black Panthers who were trying to make power plays were being answered with power. However, when Dr. King led with humble strength, he could not be ignored. In fact, even attacks against someone like this were looked at with disgust by the masses.

The result of servant leadership?  In the case of Dr. Martin Luther King, he was able to change the course of human history by influencing the hearts and minds of those who were in power. He was able to affect more change in a few short years than we saw in the 100 years after the ending of the Civil War where slavery had officially ended. Using power over another might produce short term victories; however, to create a following that will never let you fail takes leadership with a heart of a servant.

Don’t Miss The Moment

prioblog-development-how-to-life-in-the-present-moment
I’ve always been a fan of a good story; that is probably why I’ve always loved to watch and collect movies. A movie with a good story creates a sense of nostalgia in us that makes us turn to our own lives and begin to look introspectively at our life’s course. What makes the story of a movie is not the beginning and the end, but the parts in-between, but I think often those are the times that we like to forget about our own stories.

I often have a tendency to think about the time at my first duty station of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, which is in New Jersey. I often look back on my time there and begin to have all theses warm and loving memories, but that picture has a slight distortion because while I was going through that time of “warmth” and “nostalgia” I despised it and complained about it more than I didn’t. It wasn’t until now when I have the advantage of perspective that I can look back and see the good in the moment(s).

That made me consider how many moments I have missed by not appreciating and valuing my time there. How many times have we missed the moment(s) in our life wishing for something better? It is interesting how often we look back at our past with the lens of nostalgia, but often when our past was our present we despised it. If only we enjoyed the moment of the present, then maybe we would have emptied ourselves and gave our all to that moment, creating a present where we don’t have to look back and wonder what if. How many times have you said, if I had it to do over again, I would do it differently?

The greatest challenge is that we so often miss our moments to do it right the first time because we are either living in the past hoping for a do over, or looking forward to a future that may or may not come. As leaders we are supposed to have a vision of the future, but we can’t have a vision that neglects the present. We must be the vision carrier, but also be able to preserve the present. If I could pass one thing down as a leader, it would be to those that follow me to never be so anxious for something better that you lose perspective of the good in your present moment.

There is no time like the present: enjoy it, take advantage of it and live a life that when you look back through the lens of nostalgia you will say I’m glad I didn’t miss the moment.

Raising Awareness: Really?

awareness“I am raising awareness”…seems to be the rebel yell of the day. We change our profile pics on Facebook, write posts, troll political sites, share clips of news debates, etc. all in the cause of “raising awareness” for some cause or social issue. But what are we really doing? Nothing. Making noise, at best.

We are attempting to make someone else aware so that someone else will fix the problem. The issue with this is that no one is stepping up to fix any problems. Instead of us taking action, we are hoping that another person or group will. “It is not my job” we say. “The government should be fixing that.” “I am doing my part by raising awareness.” I get that we can’t champion every cause, but we don’t even champion a single one.

Instead, wouldn’t it be better to actually take a part in solving the problem? Most of the issues we are “raising awareness” for are all very well known and it is safe to say awareness has been achieved and we are just highlighting it further. In fact, most of the time, we are making the issue worse. The Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter posts just piss off the other side more when we could be seeking a solution. Rather, we are creating a deeper divide.

The latest example with Colin Kaepernick just drives this home even further. He is “raising awareness” for something he feels strongly about. What is he really doing tough? Honestly, what does he want us all to do? Should I sit down when the national anthem is playing? What if the whole country sat down in support of him, what did that achieve? It is the equivalent of seeking likes for a Facebook profile change to raise awareness. All the likes in world are not going to fix any problems, but they make us think and feel we are doing something for the cause.

In all reality, he is inflaming those who hate to see patriotism disrespected and angering those who want to defend his right to express his view. Not one conversation is happening about the actual problem. He effectively stole the awareness from the issue and created a new smokescreen. He has successfully reignited the flames and pushed people further away from a solution or even looking at the root cause.

The root cause he is trying to highlight is our prejudicial views. There are those who feel oppressed and those who think that is not true or they are blowing things out of proportion. “How can you say black people are oppressed when there is a black president?” “Our Attorney Generals since 2009 have been black, why aren’t they pursuing more justice for these shootings and police corruption.” Instead of questioning the reasoning, question what makes them feel this way. How can we work together to fix this? I am quite sure the vast majority of Americans are not prejudist and would love to have everyone feel as if they have an equal share of the pie. There are those who are white, Hispanic, gay, Muslim, female, etc. and feel they are not appreciated either. We will only get there by collaborating on a solution and then bringing “awareness” to that.

Instead of all this talking about problems that other people need to fix, I would love to see Kaepernick use his platform and resources to actually do something. Lead by example. When I want someone one my team to mentor their Airmen, I don’t refuse to salute officers to raise awareness. I don’t sit for the anthem or some other expression that equates to a toddler’s temper tantrum in hopes someone else will notice me. What I do is simply mentor Airmen. I don’t know what Colin’s ideal end game would look like or the steps to get there, but exercising the First Amendment in this way has not brought us one step closer to ending prejudice. In fact, from the comments and posts I have read, it is making it worse.

It only takes a small gesture in the right direction to get things moving. Then by reinforcing that behavior it will spread by a couple and eventually could start a movement that affects change. However, it takes more work than sharing a post on Facebook or buying a t-shirt. We need to have real conversations with others and have the intent to collaborate on a solution for the areas we can control.

Is Rank Required for Leadership?

rank equals powerA few years back I had a conversation with someone about an upcoming promotion cycle. He was telling me about how he hopes he makes the next rank so he could gain some clout in the unit. I asked him why he thought he needed rank to lead. He wasn’t able to articulate his thoughts very well about exactly how he was feeling, but it came down to he wasn’t comfortable being a leader.

I have never been a “rank” guy. In fact, I never had the option of using my rank because I was ALWAYS the lowest ranking guy on the team or within my peer group. I signed up for four years and was a true blue Airman Basic. Those coming in after me had the option to sign up for six and get Airman First Class after tech school. They showed up to the flightline almost a year after me and already out-ranked me. Fast-forward several years later to where I ran a few teams where I was the youngest and lowest ranking guy on the team of crusty maintainers who did not have too much patience.

I had to rely on building relationships and earning the trust of those on my team. I was fortunate enough to have been given a great example of how to do this by watching my father. He doesn’t have a college degree and never held a fancy title; however, every organization he has ever been a part of, he rose to leadership roles and was recognized as a leader by his peers. He did this by leveraging sweat equity, or so I explained it away at first. He would go all-in whether it was at church, work, the VA, or anywhere else. He would figure out what needed to be done and then just do it.

He worked his butt off in support of the team or his family and never expected anything in return. We went on a road trip vacation once in the winter right after a snow storm. Cars were in ditches every few miles. We stopped and pulled each one out along the way. It added several hours onto the trip, but that is the kind of man he is. I adapted this to each new role I was trusted to fill as well. I looked for the stuff that no one wanted to do or the things that slowed them down and I would take care of them. Right away, people appreciated the fact I cared and the fact I was willing to do the dirty work. That is how you build sweat equity very quickly.

Since then, I have created a formula for trust that has expanded on this system of sweat equity a lot. For those who haven’t read the article on building trust, it is to be visible, be interested and be involved. Sweat equity is the hack, if you will, to this system as it covers all three variables at once. However, you can’t be an effective team leader if you are constantly doing the dirty work and taking your eyes off of the finish line and not focusing on how to get the team across it. Once you have this initial trust of the team and they see you are willing to experience “the suck” with them, you can back off a bit and go deeper into the tasks that will keep the ball moving forward and the team is willing to follow you anywhere…it just takes time, effort and sweat. Before I was able to start initiatives I wanted to at my current role, it took about five months to get to the level of trust I needed.

So do you need rank to be a leader? Not at all. In fact, it is harder for me now that I am the highest ranking NCO in my organization. No one lets me do the dirty work anymore and it is very hard for me to build sweat equity. I have to find other ways to be visible, interested and involved. It is hard for me to fit this role because I have never had to do it before.

I do agree with his opinion about how rank does provide clout, but that is something to gain influence outside of the organization not to bully those within. Rank is something to strive for because it is a tool that can be used to move rocks out of the way of your team. It angers me when someone on the team gets the run around. Then when someone with more rank calls the same person about the same issue, it gets handled.

If you need rank to lead your team, I would not call you a leader; you’re a bully.

Incremental Daily Growth

Change-Jar (1)I remember being an Airman in the dorms and being broke. I wasn’t frivolous with my money; I just didn’t make much as an E-1. I would list out my wants and my needs in a little journal and spend accordingly on the 1st and 15th. I also had a change jar in my wall locker where I would toss the spare change I did accumulate and I never thought anything of it until the day it was full.

Change from this jar was dumped onto my floor and as I counted it, I realized there was a decent amount of money in there. In fact, it was enough to buy a couple things from my “want” column in my journal. This incremental daily growth can be leveraged into other areas of our lives. When we commit to doing something each day to make us better, the accumulation will have incredible effects on our lives.

A little while ago, I placed an article on our Facebook page about 1% continuous improvement. The concept is brilliant and the application couldn’t be any easier. You do one small thing towards a goal or make one small tweak in your routine and over the long-haul, there is a huge pay off. My change jar is a perfect example of this. I had no money. However, some coins here and there, translated into something after a while.

I have done this before with fitness, self-improvement and currently am building up for retirement with the same strategy. We all have things that are very important to us and we want to invest in them. I am currently trying to create a business, add value to NCOs through this site, raise two children, be a husband, and fulfill my Air Force duties all in the same day. Sadly, I do not have more hours in the day to this and I do not think that will change anytime soon. I once found this anonymous quote, “Many things aren’t equal but everyone gets the same 24 hours a day. We make time for what we truly want.” If I want to continue down the path I am, I need to be effective with my clock management.

About a year ago I was determined to get back into writing and to start creating plans for when I hang up this uniform. However, as a father, husband and SNCO, I had no time. I was going through the motions of life and still only getting about 4 to 4.5 hours of sleep each night. Something needed to change and I did the following routine for a month and found several extra hours lying around.

Week one. I looked for the big things sucking up my time; those things that could be stopped or reduced without taking value from my life. There were the obvious things like watching less TV. I would watch an hour or two at night to wind down after the kids went to sleep. I began to limit this and only did it if I was watching a show with my wife.

Week two and three. I began to look for the little things stealing minutes from my clock. One was playing on my phone. I would surf social media for much longer than I care to admit. I was wasting time doing little chores around the house multiple times instead of just once. For example, I would pick up sticks around the yard in the morning and again in the evening. So, I stopped doing both and just do it now when I take the dog out in the morning. I know all of this sounds trivial, but that saved me 15 minutes and then I would see other little things that needed done and they would take up even more time.

Week four and beyond. I became very deliberate with my time. At work, I do the tasks that take the most time or concentration first thing in the morning before I even look at my emails. Often I even unplug my phone to eliminate distractions. There are certain things I do each day, each week and each month and I have them blocked out on my calendar as appointments. I even found some time to allow me to workout twice a week and not lose any productivity.

At home, I dedicated time each morning to work on my writing. After a while of doing this, I decided to start this site and consistently have found time to publish a new article every Tuesday and Thursday. I decided to dedicate the entire evenings and weekends to my family. Not to mention, I now get 6 to 6.5 hours of sleep each night.

I did not do anything drastic. I did not sell off my children or even skirt tasks at work. I eliminated wasteful things a little at a time and made a more purposeful plan for my day. I still have a lot of work to do to improve in both of those areas and I plan to do exactly that just a little at a time. Sweeping changes are like fad diets and do not work. However, when we make lifestyle changes in a deliberate way, they stick with us for life.

Look for the spare change in your life. See where you can add value to your day. Maybe it is reading a couple of pages from a book, maybe it is reading this website or something else completely. Over the course of a month, you will notice some small changes; however, over the course of a year, you will see some major changes in your world. It all starts with a couple of minutes of your time.

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