As I have gotten older my mom’s “you can be whatever you want to be” advice has taken a different meaning. I am pretty confident I will never become a brain surgeon or beat Lebron James one-on-one. There are certain jobs in the military that I would not do well in either, but I am ok with that. We don’t have to be the wing commander to have a voice or be a leader. I see new Airmen and Lieutenants leading every single day. In fact, it is these “boots-on-the-ground” leaders who are the true leaders pushing the mission with a can-do attitude. I do not need rank or authority to be a leader; I need to have strong character traits. I can’t always control ‘what’ my job will be, but I can control who I am.
I have noticed this throughout my career. Once I learn my job, I grow to complacency as I go through the motions of my day. I build controls into my day to prevent me from getting too comfortable. To do this, we could take on a challenge we know will push us harder. We can ask someone on the team to hold us accountable by looking over our work. Take a look at your daily routine and see if there are ways to stretch your abilities. If you don’t seek ways to progress, those on your team won’t either.
This is one of the biggest complaints I have ever heard about those of us with rank. “SNCOs look good because we work hard for them and then they forget all about us.” This kills me to think I may have given that impression and I work really hard to never do that. We are a team that needs everyone on it to be successful. Those doing the work make the mission happen. Those of us with rank are there because we have more experience and the ability to see the obstacles coming up and move them before the team gets there. People are not on our teams to service our desires…we serve each other to lift each other.
Everyone know that guys or girl; they are the one who everyone looks to for guidance; they are reassuring, trusted, confident and display a sense of power over their surroundings. In short: people want to be like them. In a business setting these behaviors instill pride in the followers driving development of enduring leadership qualities. In this entry I will examine Idealized Influence and Inspirational Motivation, as well as ways you can use them in your work center to develop leaders.
In my eyes, Idealized Influence and Inspirational Motivation feed into one another, and there is a lot of cross over of traits from one side to another. Idealized Influence and Inspirational Motivation are the building blocks of your leadership toolbox; a solid foundation that builds lasting competencies for your followers. One these attributes is charisma. I think a lot of people can identify with this trait, as they are familiar with it from books and movies, whether it be in Operation Red Wings, Bengazi, Takur Ghar, or even on Wall Street, people know what charisma is, and they respond to it. Charisma drives Idealized Influence/Inspirational Motivation, but you don’t have to be the person described in the introduction to benefit from Idealized Influence/Inspirational Motivation.
For example, lets say you have two leaders. Leader One on the surface is lights out: finishes first in every run, can bench press a car, seems like a great leader, has a Phd AND his troops win awards, and he and his flight are great at what they do, but he doesn’t actively develop his people—he just shows up and benefits from what was already there. Outwardly this person seems like a star.
Then there is Leader Two: this person pushes themselves each day, goes back for their airmen on runs, benches a smaller car, give direct guidance/benchmarks/goals to their Airmen on what they need to do to win awards/excel in their given profession. In short Leader Two drives the development of their Airmen—shows them a vision; plants a seed, provides motivation.
Who has a bigger impact? Who is ready for more responsibility? When comparing these two leaders I think that Leader One will not win the long game, because he/she will get to a point where he/she needs to develop people and he will not have laid a foundation for continued progression (i.e. did not use Idealized Influence/Inspirational Motivation), where as Leader Two did lay the groundwork for the future of his flight/squadron. Leader Two motivated his people for the better, he developed a vision and plan on how to accomplish it, and this benefited the group. That’s what leaders do. You are in a position of authority because you have proven that you put the rest of the guys/girls well-being in front of yours. You eat last; first in line for a bad deal, last in line for a good deal. In my opinion, that’s why Leader Two will win the long game.
The following is how I work leadership development into my day, and I think this method can be adapted to any situation; in any industry:
Every morning I ask myself how can I help the people assigned to me? How can I make them better at their given tasks, how can I harness their innate gifts to increase our lethality? In other words how can I deliberately develop my people? After all, this is my task. Some days this means I work on a skill I need to develop, so I can pass it on, and some days this means that I have “Sgt time” for hands on remedial training so I can solidify my team’s understanding/application of a subject. Either way, my team is getting stronger and heading in the right direction.
I hope you have found value in this entry, and more importantly it has made you think of ways you can develop your followers.
Today I would like to touch on one of the anchor points of a critical aspect of your development as a leader: Transformational Leadership (TL).
My main motivations for writing this section are two core beliefs:
It is my belief that the traits that make successful leaders can be developed by focusing on the individual, while adhering to four core tenants of TL, and
Leaders must lead, not manage (you lead people and manage programs)!
TL is often praised as the key to the total development of your followers; however we are not always shown “how” to lead in our developmental PME courses, and in my experience, much of the leadership development is left up to chance by letting individuals who have certain personality traits lead lines of effort—whether they are ready or not. But how do you, or your troops, develop these traits? Throughout this series I will explore the topic of TL and how you can apply it to your situation.
The first aspect of TL I would like to examine is Idealized Influence.Idealized Influence is your ability to act in ways that make you the role model— make your troops want to be like you! You are the consummate professional. You are charismatic, on-time, prepared, calm, positive, and stay true to your ethical and moral standards in the actions you take. You are honest, reliable and actively build trust with your followers. In other words you set the example; you walk the walk—but most importantly you have a vision.
You may not have all of these skills in your leadership toolbox now, but since we have identified what traits you need to practice you can start to include them in you daily interactions with your co-workers. For example, if one of your followers is having problems with a specific task you could take action by:
Showing them how to do the task,
Explain its importance to the overall objectives of the organization, and
Highlight how important becoming proficient at this task is, and how they will be able to build a better tomorrow for their organization.
No matter how big your area of influence is, by practicingIdealized Influence, you can make an impact with your actions and foster a positive developmental environment for you troops and yourself.
In my next entry I will explore Inspirational Motivation, and how you can use it to broaden your influence and lead your teams.
One of the biggest struggles I see new leaders having is the difficulty getting others to care as much as they do. It all comes down to pride in ownership.
I remember taking martial arts as a kid and walking into the training center for months and completely ignored the chairs in the waiting area. Then one day, my instructor placed me in charge of ensuring the waiting room was clean before and after each class. One of the tasks…straightening up the chairs. I could not fathom how people could simply walk past crooked chairs or not care about how they looked when they stood up. I was tempted to make a sign or even “educate” others.
The problem wasn’t the people or their habits, it was me. I had never even given the chairs a second glance until I was in charge of them. When we take over a program or some area, we have pride in ownership. We want things to be just right because our name is attached to it. Or maybe just because we notice the problem now that we own it. Whatever the case, we have to respect the fact that others probably don’t know about the problem.
What can you do? First, think about if the problem is something others need to know about. For example, a sign in the waiting room educating parents on chair alignment would not be something of value. However, if it is something that you learned about that would benefit others, it is something that needs shared.
Next, educate. Maybe people are not taking pride in what they do on a daily basis. Show them the impact of their work. I read before that the coach of the U.S. Men’s Olympic basketball team took them to Arlington Cemetery to get a feel of what it means to serve their nation. They were able to represent our flag in sport because these heroes gave it all for them in combat. Maybe it doesn’t have to be that drastic, but find a way to show them how they fit into the bigger picture.
Lastly, create an environment for them to grow. General Stanley McChrystal talks about being a gardener. The gardener does not make the seed grow. No matter what they do, they can not make the seed grow. They can only cultivate the proper environment for it to grow.
Don’t blame others for not caring about the same things you do, give them ownership of the problem or educate them on the importance of it.
Rule one of flightline management was to not treat the Crew Chiefs poorly. This group is used to working in crappy conditions, missing lunches, and never getting ahead and basically have nothing to lose. So when new managers would come aboard and try to overwork them even more, they would get their revenge. Something that typically took 4 hours could easily take 16. Crew Chiefs are willing to use their experience and gifts to get things done by the book while overlapping tasks. It takes years to cultivate this; however, when someone treats them bad, they get “nervous” and do each task separately. This is a minor example of what poorly treated people can do. Take the time to seek your team’s feedback and listen. They don’t want you to fail.
Tis the season. The holidays are upon us as are the SSgt SCOD EPRs. One of the most frequent questions we are asked during this time frame is how can push our SSgts higher on the list for Forced Distribution? I think the better question is how should a SSgt EPR read?
To be clear: I am not talking solely about making people look good on paper. I am suggesting that we need to be developing our members throughout the year and capture their efforts on paper. I am not a fan of “inflating” our teammates for the sake of EPRs.
The greatest piece of Air Force literature still remains to be the 36-2618 (Enlisted Force Structure). This book has been about 90% accurate for every new rank I have made and has provided me guidance on what to strive for when my supervisors did not. In there, it discusses what a SSgt “should” look like. They “are primarily highly skilled technicians with supervisory and training responsibilities.” This quickly read statement holds the keys to being a good SSgt.
Highly skilled technician: know your job. SSgts should be able to do their job with no one looking over their shoulders. No one should be coming behind them to fix their mistakes. They are trusted to care for their piece of the pie.
Example: SSgt Lawrence troubleshot and fixed landing gear issue… He generated 100 missions throughout the year… etc. are all examples of this. How is the SSgt doing their job well? Bullets showing job skills are often “me” focused.
Supervisory responsibilities: Typically, this is where you are a first-time supervisor with some Airmen to shepherd. You have CDCs to track, EPRs to write, feedbacks to perform, dorm inspection fails, and all of the other supervisory challenges that come with this new role.
Example: SSgt Lawrence challenged Airman X to get an 85% on CDCs… He led a volunteer clean-up event… These bullets usually show one-on-one leadership impacts or small team efforts.
Training responsibilities: Teach new Airmen and newly assigned teammates how to do their jobs. Also, teaching your subordinates how to be in the service.
Example: SSgt Lawrence trained 5 Airmen on 200 core tasks… He became the unit CPR instructor… Again, these are one-on-one or small team efforts.
A good SSgt EPR shows a mixture of all three of these things.
Now to take this up a notch to develop great SSgts, you need to show how they are ready for the next stripe. TSgts are the “organization’s technical experts.” This is a detail often overlooked as most SSgts are so skilled, they assume they are the technical experts already. I see this all the time as they say, “I am an expert, I can do that task in half the time of my peers.” That is the definition of highly skilled.
Technical expertise is when you know your job so well that you are solving problems. “Noticed trend of #4 main tires being changed out-of-cycle. Discovered factory bolt installed backwards on all block 11 aircraft.” A different way to say this is that highly skilled technicians are hands-on experts and technical experts are able to connect the dots of a bigger picture based on their skills.
Work to develop your SSgts to 1) be very good at being “highly skilled technicians with supervisory and training responsibilities.” as discussed above. and then 2) teach them to take a step back to see the whole picture and help them connect the dots to solve problems not to simply fix discrepancies.
As you do this, they will grow in their supervisor and trainer roles organically. You can’t solve problems without leading a team of leaders or training people on a mass scale to implement a smarter solution.
We are meant for great things. However, when the finish line of the race is designed to edify ourselves, we are missing the point. We have the gifts and talents that we do to further a cause or an ideal. We will all be pushing posies at one point, but the causes we champion will continue on. I already know you are a legend, no need to prove it to anyone else. Further someone or something and your work will live on forever.