Deliberate Development

Professional Development for the Military Leader


Self Leadership

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?



Don’t Miss The 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.

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.

Just a Pawn?

pawnEvery one on a team must fill a unique role if it is to succeed.  One of the most difficult problems of being on a team is filling a different role than what we think we deserve.  It is extremely difficult to lead a team that has members conflicting over their roles.  Unfortunately, this is human nature but there is a way to make life easier for all.

To explain this I am going to liken the team to a game of chess.  Many people know how to play the game and even those who do not are somewhat familiar with this game of skill.  The pieces on the chess board make up the ultimate team that has a common goal.  Each piece has a very unique role and each is willing to lay down its life to protect another piece that possesses a higher point value.

For starters there is the pawn.  The pawn moves one space at a time and in a straight line.  There is no backing up and no retreat.  His mission is to block the paths of the enemy’s pieces and to form a line of defense to his own pieces.  There is no glory at all in this piece’s role.  It is rare that a pawn will save the day and very common for him to be sacrificed so that another piece is not captured.

Many roles on a team are just like this pawn’s.  Sometimes we have to do things that we do not want to, like clean up after an event or file paperwork.  You know that you are more capable than this and could do something that would really benefit the team.  On your last team you ran the show and performed the high profile tasks.  Why on earth are my talents being wasted like this?  You even think to yourself that your leader clearly has it out for you and you will show him by doing this work fast and sloppy!

Think from the leader’s perspective for a second.  You have a new member to the team.  You are not sure of their capabilities or quality of work.  They came highly recommended and the last leader had great things to say about them.  In order to get a feel for their dedication and abilities you give him some papers to file.  If he does this well then we can move him up to a better position until we find where his strengths are.

Now if you do your job sloppy it will be perceived that you are not a true team player.  Why would a leader put you in a position of authority if you have a bad attitude?  That attitude will spread to those beneath you very quickly.  Makes sense to the leader, but to you it may be a difficult concept until you walk in the leader’s shoes for a moment.

Let’s go back to chess for a moment.  The entire focus of the game is to capture the other team’s king all the while protecting yours.  Each of the other pieces has a signature movement style that provides a very valuable asset to the team.  The bishops move on diagonals in any direction and for as many squares as they desire.  Rooks or castles travel in straight lines.  Then there are the knights that have an interesting “L” pattern movement that is difficult to defend against.  Queens are the treasured pieces that combine the movements of the rooks and bishops.

These pieces are the members of the team.  Each member has his or her own specialty or strength.  This role is learned through training and perfected through practice.  To get the opportunity to showcase your strengths you need to first show that you want the team to succeed at any cost.  More often than not this means that you have to wait your time and prove to your leaders that you are willing to do the menial tasks to ensure success of your team.

Finally, let’s talk about the king.  The king is the focus of the entire game.  Every piece of yours is willing to lay down its life to protect the king.  Each piece on the other team is itching to be the one to capture your king.  The king himself can only move one space at a time.  He can not move into danger but can move in any direction.  He holds no value to the team’s ultimate goal and yet they all protect him.  The king’s role is to lead his kingdom not capture pieces.

The pawn on the other hand is extremely valuable to the king.  He must be the frontline defense to protect the king.  He marches valiantly on a straight path in to danger.  He is to stand firm in the face of destruction to hold the line for the others.  He is to be the foundation for all the other pieces to build upon.  If there was no pawn every other piece would be exposed and the king would be captured very quickly.  In fact, try to play a game of chess where you have no pawns and the other team does.  You will get crushed!

Every team has unique roles that need filled.  Every team needs a pawn.  Just because there are roles that you would rather fill does not change the fact each role needs to be filled.  No one starts at the top.  They have to earn that spot by proving themselves as pawns.  Once a new position opens, the leaders will pull from the pawns to fill it and then upwards from there.  If you truly are as good as you think you are, your talents are sure to be noticed and you will advance very quickly.

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:

You can’t make a hole in water

a life is not important“Why don’t you take some time off?  You’ve been working hard.”

“If I’m not here, who else is going to make sure this place is running?”

This is a fallacy that many of us find ourselves believing.  Not only is it unhealthy because it can become a source of ‘bad stress’, but because at the end of the day, no matter how much you do, you are ultimately replaceable.  Eventually, we all get replaced and things still move forward.

Gordon R. Sullivan offered this advice to people that inflated their role in the book Leadership: The Warrior’s Art by Chris Kolenda; “When you are beginning to think you’re so important, make a fist and stick your arm into a bucket of water up to your wrist.  When you take it out, the hole you [leave] is a measure of how much you’ll be missed.”[1]

If you think that’s discouraging, here’s a cheeky perspective;

“If Tetris has taught me anything, it’s that errors pile up and accomplishments disappear.”

Think back to times in the military, and even in the civilian sector, when you’ve seen people come and go in your organization.  I can tell you from firsthand experience that it is sobering to realize that you hardly see a difference in how things are taken care of day-to-day as those people come and go.  It makes you question what impact you really have on things around you.

You’re saying, “Enough with that already, I get it, what I do today doesn’t matter tomorrow in the grand scheme of things”.  Wrong.  Well, yes and no.  I used to coin a phrase during situations when my coworkers and I working in aircraft maintenance production management would get too embroiled in work or too ‘ambitious’.  I would say, “There is no such thing as a maintenance hero”.  My point was that no matter how much we accomplished or how ‘on point’ things were, weeks down the road those accomplishments would be forgotten, like water flowing under a bridge.

What mattered was that we moved the ball down the field, moved the organization to a good position; there was no need to attempt to conquer the world in one day.  Those accomplishments are fleeting; you’ll face a different set of the same tasks or challenges the next day.  Strive to do great things, but you don’t need to beat up your people, waste resources, or stress yourself out every day to do that.  It is doubtful you will be remembered for what you’ve accomplished; rather, you are remembered for the impact you have on individuals.  If you are lucky, people will remember you for the impact you had on them and the great things you’ve done.  There are many people that I think about that I’ve encountered in my career that made an impact on me that were ‘just’ aircraft mechanics—and quite a few of them still are.  Their accomplishments may not have been broad and grand, but their impact on me was.  I often remember the personal characteristics of my former coworkers, not what we were doing when we were having a laugh or enjoying the camaraderie we shared.

I would argue that your leadership style, not your control over things or your managerial prowess, will be remembered.  That’s what creates enduring teams and builds connections.  What lasts are the impressions you leave people with.  Even if you don’t have a heart-to-heart discussion with a subordinate, how you conduct yourself and treat them leaves an impression.  People remember things like that.  We all have a 100 percent chance of death; it is likely that we will live on in the hearts and minds of the people that we love or those that we’ve made impressions on.  No one is truly remembered by their accomplishments alone—even those that have done great things in history have gained that legendary status because of the impact they made on others.

In Francis Ford Coppola’s Patton, the closing scene has General Patton and General Bradley walking through a quaint European village, discussing all they accomplished during the war.  Patton used an anecdote to illustrate an important point.  “For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeters, musicians and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conquerors rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children, robed in white, stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”[2]

[1]  Kolenda, C. D. (2001). Leadership: The Warrior’s Art. Carlisle, PA: Army War College Foundation Press.

[2] Francis Ford Coppola’s Patton, closing scene quote.

Fail Forward

gretzky“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat.” These are the words from the former Naval Aviator and best selling author, Denis Waitley. Often times we all look at failure as the end of the road and when we fall down, we do not want to get back up again. However, Waitley goes on to say, “It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”

If we ever want to be successful in life, we are going to experience failure. In fact, I challenge you to find someone who you consider a success who has not failed at one point. The simple truth is we all fail; the only difference between those who find success and those who don’t is the willingness to keep trying. We should not fear failure. Obviously we don’t want to start the task with the hopes of failing, but we need to change our mindset about it. Failure is simply an indication that we tried, but it was not enough effort in the right place. Move on and try again with a different plan; fail forward.

The main ways I have found that we fail are: failure to meet the standard, failure to reach the desired outcome, and failure to even try. None of these three are the end of the road, they are simply detours. All can be recovered from and there are vital learning moments in each.

Let’s look into each of these further, starting with failing to meet the standard. At one point in our lives or careers we broke a rule or the law. Sometimes it was on purpose and sometimes it was a chain reaction we let spiral out of control. Regardless, we deviated from the standard and need to suffer the consequences. Sadly, our military culture tosses a label on you as a “dirt bag” initially. This pushes those who want to be better to try extra hard to overcome their failure.

Trying extra hard is often going to get us into more trouble. We start to try and hit home runs with every swing to show the boss what we are capable of, but meanwhile we are misplacing our efforts. What I do when I get in trouble and what I advise those on my team to do is to start with the basics. Do the things you are required to do only. Do not go over and above seeking new initiatives; stick to the basics and do them well. When we swing for the fence, we tend to miss some things we are required to do and it is noticed immediately, because we are under the spotlight. Once you do well at the required tasks and the light isn’t directly on you, slowly take on new challenges. Do this and the spotlight will eventually fade or someone else will screw up and the light will move to them.

Failing to meet the desired outcome is the most common type of failure. For the most part, we strive to do great things for the mission and to help others grow; however, sometimes things do not go as planned. In all of the leadership roles I have had, I have failed more times than I can count. Most were minor, but several were major. I have made decisions or said things I wish I could take back, but I can’t; however, I can learn from them. Where we make the mistake is narrowing our focus too much. For example, I once made a decision to do a tail swap from one plane to another once I saw the aircrew was starting to have issues. We rushed to move all of the cargo, pump more fuel, move the people, and double our efforts to get the next aircraft generated. Meanwhile, the other airplane was fixed and we still had a late mission.

When we fail like this, we are tempted to blame the decision. I could have said that I will never do another tail swap again. However, tail swaps are sometimes the right answer. Where I failed was not taking a step back and thinking things through a little better. The technicians told me they needed some time to troubleshoot and I should have considered the time it took to swap over to the new aircraft would cause a late no matter what and giving them some more time could save a lot of effort and get an on-time departure still. I could have found a couple of technicians not doing anything and had them start to fuel the next aircraft and get it ready in case we had to swap. Even though these were not the choices I made, you can bet after this “fail” I learned to think things through a little more before pulling the trigger.

Sometimes we fall short of a personal goal like making rank or when we position ourselves for NCO of the quarter or some other honor our supervisors were pushing us for. What happens when someone else edges us out? Typically we get upset and adopt the “F- It” attitude and quit. In reality, we need to look where we fell short. What did they do better than us? What can I do better? If nothing else, the person who beat us out this time will not be competing next time and we move up a position by default. As a leader, I am looking to advance those who have a positive attitude and a desire to get better. These are the people I want leading my teams, not those who give up or point fingers at the first sign of adversity.

Knowing what to do when we fail to meet a standard or fall short of our intended goal is a vital piece of knowledge if we are ever going to be a success. It always comes down to seeking out the root cause and seeking to learn how to do things better. The last form of failure: to not even try, is the only way to truly become a failure. To try and fail is not a fail, but if we are not willing to take risks because we are afraid to fail, we have failed.

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Wayne Gretzky.

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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