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Deliberate Development

Professional Development for the Military Leader

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One on One Leader

Happy Father’s Day

Hero-Dad-On-Fathers-Day-With Father’s Day being right around the corner, I can’t help but reflect on some things my father taught me and things I hope to be able to pass on to my children. One of those vital lessons came to me around my 15th birthday. He told me, “You are a man now. What you do or don’t do is your choice, but you have to own the consequences of those choices.” This is a moment, I will never forget and one I revisit often although I certainly am not perfect and haven’t owned every consequence as I should have, but I do recognize this and strive to grow when I see it happen.

A deeper rooted theme in this message is one we face often throughout our lives and careers. We come to many forks in the road and our decisions can ultimately steer the directions of our families. We can choose to sacrifice time with our loved ones to chase money, notoriety, rank or a position to become somebody our families are proud of. The path where our end goal is become somebody important can lead us to sacrifice our values, kiss butt, or step on another to get closer to that goal. This could very well get you to that coveted title or position, but is it something you earned? Can you look yourself in the mirror and face yourself knowing the truth of what you did to get there?

The other option is to do what is right. To own your integrity. To solve problems that raise others up. To build bridges for those who will come behind you. To let your works speak for you and elevate those around you. You will eventually be so good that others can’t ignore your talent. They can’t deny your passion for others. Most importantly, they can’t question your values. This is the person I want to become. This is the person I would like my children to see. If it those great positions and titles follow, great. However whether they do or not, this is a choice with consequences I would want to own. To me there is no greater duty title than when my kids call me, “daddy”.

I encourage you to remember and honor your fathers or whoever that father figure was for you this weekend.

Daily Deliberation: 8 June 2017

Sadly, most of our career goals are time-centered and not quality-focused. For example, we have X number of months to get signed off on 5-Level tasks or X number of months to complete EPME. We are even encouraged to only have certain duty titles for a limited amount of time. The reason is because time is something that can be measured and monitored easily; however, we all know a date on the calendar doesn’t make us better, our continuous efforts do. Strive to master your craft by working on it daily and not just “leveling-up” then moving on.

Daily Deliberation: 13 May 2017

Haven’t we all thought something like this before? Whenever I was working with a new person and we were coming close to the suspense, the pressure would get to me and I would think they were the problem. In all reality, it was me. I hadn’t prepared them well enough. It took me longer than I care to admit to learn this lesson, but once I did I became the teacher I wish I had.

Daily Deliberation: 4 May 2017

Today and every day we need to make sure we are projecting the energy for our teams. It is up to us as leaders to set the tone and control the atmosphere. May the Fourth be with you!

Happy Star Wars Day!

Are Leaders Required to be Technical Experts?

smartAs we are coming up in the ranks, we strive to become technically sound in our profession. We learn the ins and outs of our job and continue to hone these skills. Eventually, we make rank and gain some supervisory roles. If we are quasi effective in these new roles, we gain even more rank and even more responsibility. One day we become responsible for functions we do not know much about. How important is it to become technical experts in these functions?

I am a Crew Chief who has not turned a wrench as a line mechanic since 2009. Since then, I have been in various supervisory roles both on and off of the flightline. I have supervised those of my own Crew Chief species and every other specialty that is in our maintenance community. In deployed locations, I have supervised civilians, supply functions, contractors, foreign nationals, security forces and many other various specialties. Now, I supervise high performing NCOs and SNCOs in all maintenance specialties, admin personnel, computer networkers, military training leaders, and we are part of a detached unit with unique operating requirements. All this about me is not to brag; rather, to lay the framework that I have some credibility to talk about supervising those whose function is outside of my background or area of expertise.

I have attempted to become an expert in some of these fields in the past. I tried to become a technical expert in each field because I thought I couldn’t be effective as a leader if I didn’t know their jobs. Have you ever had this thought too? What I learned was that I was completely wrong. I didn’t need to learn how to do their jobs to be a good boss; I had to learn how THEY did their jobs. I needed to see their routines, what processes they employed, what restraints they have, what they struggle with, what they excel at, etc. I needed to experience their day. I needed to know what they did and could bring to the table.

There is no way I could ever become an expert in every functional area and there is no need for me to even try. We need to trust our experts to practice their trade and to do our best to give them the tools they need to succeed and seek ways to develop them professionally. If we want them to trust us, we have to trust them. As leaders we need to be experts in helping our team see the big picture and how each function fits into it. We need to create the vision and point the direction we need to go. We need to articulate what needs to be done and the intent behind it and then let the real experts figure out how to do it.

This does not mean we are to be completely ignorant to how things work or even not strive to become smarter in how things are done. In fact, the more we know about the inner workings of a particular area, the better we can be at hearing those whispers that can become screams. The way we do this is by going back to my formula for trust. To earn the trust of others; you have to be visible, interested, and involved. When we are doing these three things, we are learning the inner workings of our organization and earning the trust of our team all at the same time.

Being knowledgeable as a leader is very important; however, being an expert in each area is not a prerequisite to being in charge.

Service Before Self?

Helping-Others“My EPR is coming due! I need to get some base/community service in so I can get a bullet.” Sound familiar? I wish I could say that I have never said a version of this, but I think all of us have at one point. Although serving is ultimately a good thing, we carry this bullet-forging mentality with us into others areas of our profession and forget what service is really all about.

Serving others around base in a Top 3, Rising 6, AADD, etc. is a great thing to do. Serving others in the community is a great thing to do as well. However, when we are doing it just to get a bullet, are we truly serving? This is something I had been asked before by young NCOs and have asked myself when I was told I needed to get some community involvement. Basically, are we trying to perpetuate a “fake it until you make it” mentality? We are trying to fabricate a community of dedicated Airmen who are willing to serve selflessly by motivating them to do so for selfish reasons.

My personal opinion is that any act of service to another is a great thing. Even when I have been volun-told to do certain things, afterwards I had a sense of pride in the fact I helped to make a difference. Honestly, it sometimes took a boot in the butt to get me out of my comfort zone and to do this. We have all been part of these scenarios where we see those who were clearly there just to get their name on the list and did just enough to get the bullet. This is apparent to everyone that they are here just for that reason alone. This is a shame as they are not even attempting to gain some value from the experience.

We are all extremely busy. We have workplace demands, PME distance learning, studying for promotion, off-duty education, caring for our Airmen, and, oh yeah, an outside life too. The last thing many of us want to do is give another moment of our time to serve another and this article is not about trying to motivate you to do that. My goal is to explain my view on service and what a servant really is.

Ironically, the title ‘sergeant’ is derived from an old French word ‘serjant’ meaning servant1. Over the years, it has kept its meaning and even the definition (from multiple dictionaries) for a servant includes those employed by the government. We are servants. Even though we often feel like Alfred Pennyworth from Batman, we are not meant to be that type of servant. We are servants in the sense of someone willing to offer their life in support of a cause. In our case, it is in the defense of the Constitution of the United States of America. Someone who is willing serve our nation.

As Airmen, we have the core value of “service before self” and I stand firm in this being the most under appreciated and truly misunderstood value we have. The only time it comes up is when the boss is trying to hose you. “I need you to work this weekend. I don’t care about your plans…remember ‘service before self’” “You need to appreciate this deployment and remember your core values.” This mentality is the direct result of the “fake it until you make it” mentality. We push service as a box to fill rather than an opportunity to make those around us better.

One leadership style often discussed, but quickly dismissed is the servant leadership model. This model suggests we place the needs of others above our own. When we take care of the team’s needs (up and down the chain), they have the ability to grow even stronger. There is very little debate suggesting that servant leadership is not the most effective model of leadership. Some of the greatest leaders of all time are classified as servant leaders: Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. to name just a few. Their examples and legacies live on much longer than other leaders. Think of all of the followers Jesus has to this day. Think about how every city in America has a street named after Martin Luther King. It is because these leaders inspired others through acts of service. There was no question the needs of those on their team came first.

In my own career when I placed the needs of my team over my own, they have always responded in amazing ways. The gestures do not have to even be big. The person who trained me on being a flightline expediter told me that I did not get lunch until everyone on my team did. This was really a challenge because expediters live in their truck and often their lunches are staring right at them on the passenger seat throughout the day. However, it was a small gesture that reminded to meet the needs of the team first. It was much bigger than a simple lunch; it was a reminder to place myself in their shoes each day.

When we are able to place ourselves in the shoes of our leaders and subordinates, we can better understand the needs they have. I remember once being over tasked with all sorts of things and I was staying late all week to get them done. Once I put those fires out, I still had to write a decoration for one of my ratees. As I sat down at a desk, 2 hours after my day ended, I opened my email to see my team lead took care of it for me. This random act of kindness was powerful! He certainly did not have to do this, he did it because he placed himself in my shoes and thought about how he could serve me. You better believe I looked for every opportunity to pay him back after that.

Service is more than a checked box on your EPR. Service to our nation and others is a higher calling. It is an opportunity to make a difference in another’s life. It is our chance as a sergeant to show our team they matter to us. It is our chance to make a lasting impression on their lives that will create a “pay it forward” mentality as opposed to the volun-told culture. Once you understand the power of this concept and experience the joy of enriching another’s life, service becomes a calling not a tasking.

  1. Online Etymology Dictionary. Sergeant: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=sergeant

Whispers Turn into Screams

listen_ignoreAfter I gained some experience as a leader, I realized something simple and yet profound: whispers turn into screams. Small issues can become large issues if left ignored for too long. Something that can be handled very quickly is often ignored until it becomes an emergency.

Time and time again, we hear about a systemic issue in the business world and even in the Air Force. For example, one of the root causes behind the Minot Nuke Incident was a high turnover rate with personnel on station. It had been pointed out before that people were leaving just as they were getting proficient; however, it had been dismissed just as quickly as it was voiced. This little whisper of a brewing issue was one tiny thing that contributed to a huge screw up which could have been much, much worse.

Although most of the time, the small issues in our organization do not lead to the mishandling of a nuclear weapon, there are still many events that could have been prevented by not ignoring the initial signals. Think about it in the sense of launching a mission. Usually, the issues that hold up a line (i.e. load plans, life support equip, etc.) are brought up very early in the sequence. The urgency behind this is very low because there is still plenty of time. Eventually, we realize key sequences are not happening on time and we begin to wonder what the deal is. It is at this point we begin to jump through hoops and turn up the intensity levels. When it could all have been dealt with much earlier.

On a daily basis, we hear about little things that are happening throughout the work center. Not every one of them is something we need to act upon; however, there are several needing attention. When I overhear someone say there is a potential scheduling issue for an event three months away, the tendency is to ignore it. “Who cares, it’s three months away?” Then suddenly it’s the Friday before the event and the issue was never resolved, everyone is in full panic mode.

Over the years, I have come up with a system to help me manage what whispers I need to worry about. It is a simple question: will this impact the people or the mission? If the answer is yes, I take this whisper and dig into it a bit further. If the answer is no and I can make the whisper go away within a few minutes, I handle it on the spot. Everything else is noise.

When I decide to dig into an issue a bit further, I look at what the potential causes are and how I can align resources right now to account for this. If we had a similar long term view in our personal lives, it would look like this. Every year my HOA hits me with a bill right after Christmas. This is the time of the year when funds are low due to all the gifts and festivities. Knowing that bill sneaks up on me, I can put away the money for it now when funds aren’t tight and be ready. We all do something similar to this in our own lives, but we overlook simple solutions requiring an ounce of foresight when it comes to work.

I personally hate being in full-on panic mode and know those on my team do as well. There are times when we need to be and they are taxing on the people and the equipment. However, if we learn to listen to the whispers and deal with them intelligently and early; many of the “emergencies” are able to be avoided.

Leave a Legacy

pericles
When the topic of legacies arises, who comes to mind?  For many, it is a former president, commander, etc.  There is often very little talk about those who have the most impact in another’s life, the people who impact others on a one-on-one basis.

In many families there is a lineage of veterans leading from WWII or Vietnam to today.  These proud vets may have impacted hundreds or even thousands of people without even realizing it.  Their words may have left a lasting legacy in the hearts and minds of those whom were touched.  Pericles, the ancient Athenian general, said, “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”

There are thousands of Airmen, soldiers, sailors and Marines serving today who started off on a rocky path, but managed to turn it all around.  When asked, ‘why?’  The answer is always the same, “My supervisor pulled me aside and put me on the right path.”  “If it weren’t for him/her I would be out on the street, in prison or even dead.”

Former Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, David J. Campanale credited his supervisors at his first base for, “turning his attitude around.”  These lower level supervisors saw his potential, took him under their wing and steered him onto the right path.  He later rose to the highest enlisted rank in the Air Force.  What if no one had cared?

At this point there is very little question that anyone can have a lasting impact on others if they are simply willing to invest their time. What must be gained in order to leave a legacy woven into the lives of others? The most important thing is respect.  Earn the respect of another and their heart will follow.  It is earned by first respecting him or her and then by setting the right example.  According to a psychological study done by Elizabeth Brondolo, the number one quality desired by subordinates is the support and to know that “…their supervisors care about them.”

Caring enough to be truly honest with another is a quality many don’t have.  Many supervisors only care about making people happy or getting the mission accomplished.  They are counting on the respect afforded to them through rank and position of authority not on “earned” respect.  There are leaders people want to follow and there are leaders that force others to follow.  General Eisenhower said, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” Respect is the easiest thing for a leader to earn; you simply have to be respectful.

When you truly respect someone and project that respect, they will follow suit. By showing you respect their time and do your best to get them out of the work center so they can make a family dinner. Encouraging them to make their child’s first day of school. Rolling up your sleeves and joining the team when short-handed. All the other things you would respect from your boss is what you need to do in order to earn their respect. Even those who do not like you personally can respect you and can find a way to work with someone they respect.

Are you a Pinger?

chase the mouse“We are working for a real pinger today,” were the first words out of the mouth of my Senior Airman trainer on my very first day on the flightline. He went on to explain a pinger is a person that freaks out and is bouncing from one thing to the next like a ping pong ball. This was the literally the first piece of on-the-job training I received. This is something that is noticed by everyone and not admired by anyone. We have all seen those that freak out when something is not going well and dedicate ALL resources to the issue.

The problem with this is when all resources are focused in one area, other areas are now failing. Then we get healthy in one area and then fail in another and throw the resources there and the cycle continues. When it comes to making the mission happen we can easily fall into a “chase the mouse” scenario. We are tempted to constantly run from one fire to the next. We look like a cat chasing a mouse. This wears our people out and it makes us look like we do not know what the heck we are doing.

As the expression goes, “what is measured is what matters,” or some variation of this is the mantra of many senior leaders. They do not have the ability to get into the weeds all the time and have to determine the health of the organization by specific metrics. Their subordinates (usually our bosses) often chase these statistics and when the unit is substandard on one or lagging behind their peers, they begin to ping.

Naturally, we need to shift our focus when we are not meeting standards. However, it does not require a tourniquet on a paper cut. Instead it takes getting to the root of the issue. What I do is take a quick look at what I think the root cause is and then find one person with the skills to lead the effort. Once I have this person in place, I let them know where we are and where we need to be. They are then trusted to find the root of the problem and let me know what is needed to fix it. A lot of issues can be fixed just by putting eyes on it and educating the masses.

By having a more deliberate approach to the situation can and often does lead to a fix without shifting very many resources at all. The argument arises that it is easier to say than do when leadership is breathing down your neck. Truthfully, you are already out of standards in one area and it is known. I have never once had a single issue explaining to the boss that we are looking into the root of the issue and here is our plan to fix it. A lot of times once we start to look, the issue is even worse and those findings are also shared with a proposed get well date. Accept responsibility and accountability and the desire to fix the problem. This is typically met with a “keep me updated” response and that is the end of the conversation.

When we panic and blindly throw people or money at problems, new areas will soon fall below the standard. It makes us look worse when we get one area up to code and a new deficiency is briefed the next meeting. Here our leadership looks at us as ineffective and those we lead feel the same way and morale begins to fade. Instead of chasing the mouse throughout the organization, relax, take a breath and define the cause of the problem that you are actually solving.

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