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Deliberate Development

Professional Development for the Military Leader

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Teams

Open Door Policies are Useless

Photo from DanNielson.com

Every single time I heard a leader tell me over the years that they have an open door policy I have wanted to laugh. I envisioned myself walking past the other three links in my chain of command and right into his or her office to express my thoughts. In my mind, I never even made it to the door. I have learned others feel the same way too.

I completely and wholeheartedly believe the leader who says the door is open and I genuinely believe they would want to help me. Many are concerned about the fallout from walking through that door and voicing a concern that hasn’t been routed through the chain with a staff summary sheet firmly affixed. This is something we need to address as leaders. I want those on my team to be able to go direct to the person who could best solve the problem for them not to be redirected.

Recently, I had an issue with my cell phone bill and called the customer service line. I knew I needed to speak to a supervisor in billing to get this charge removed from past experiences; however, I had to talk to a customer service agent who then transferred me to tech support and then to billing. From there I had to get a little rude to even get to the supervisor I wanted from the beginning who was able to fix my issue. Over 30 minutes wasted. Yet we do the same thing to our team members and wonder why they are not taking initiative to fix problems. We are simply wearing them down before they even make it to the appropriate level who can assist.

I am now that tool standing in front of my team spouting the cliche about how my door is open. However, I employ a few other methods to connect and receive feedback other than “hope” someone will have the courage to walk through my door.

1. ) Culture of trust: No matter what the issue is that is highlighted to me, I don’t punish the other links in the chain that were skipped or who couldn’t solve the problem. Look at what the issue is, not who to blame for it. Is there a way to empower or train others to solve this at their level?

2.) Anonymous feedback: I created a survey on Survey Monkey that provides an anonymous way to pass me concerns. My team can do this from home, their phone, their desk or where ever they choose and I will never know who was saying it unless they tell me. This is better than a comment box, because people have the fear they will be seen dropping the message. I have received some amazing feedback in there that has pointed me to some simple fixes which have paid dividends.

3.) Walk through your own open door: Get out of your office and go to where the work is being done in your unit. You will get to see firsthand what problems the team is facing and what struggles they have. I have been able to get ahead of so many major issues this way and it lets my team know I care. In fact, these are typically the people who end up taking advantage of my open door policy. Go figure.

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Daily Deliberation: 5 September 2017

What does this quote from Alexander the Great mean to you? To me, it means we have to be strong as leaders. We can’t be afraid to stand up for our team and to our team. I recently watched as a supervisor chastised his subordinate and then flip-flopped when he got push-back. If he could not even stand firm with his troop, how in the world is he expected to stand firm when talking to someone higher in the food chain than himself. Being a lion means we have to protect the team and also ensure we are handling issues on the team too.

Daily Deliberation: 26 August 2017

Many of us look at being a leader like Maximus Decimus Meridius in the movie Gladiator. We lead the charge into battle and are revered for our courage and battlefield prowess. Because of our technical abilities, we are usually promoted to positions of leadership. However, if we get into the weeds too often, we are not focused on the bigger picture and not helping the whole team. We need to be involved in the daily tasks being performed, but it is our primary job to equip our team with the proper training and resources. Equipping others to fight the battle is much more valuable than your individual efforts.

Daily Deliberation: 16 August 2017

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.

Daily Deliberation: 27 June 2017

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.

Daily Deliberation: 17 June 2017

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.

Daily Deliberation: 10 June 2017

I remember being a flightline expediter and thinking I was doing a great job because I was able to get the required number of people onto the job in a timely manner. However, my chest thumping was short-lived when I would realize they were not making things happen like I had hoped. I learned it was not their fault, I had failed to give them direction or express the big picture of where we were going. Once I learned to provide this for them, only then could they harmonize their talents to accomplish the mission.

Eye contact matters

Today I watched a squadron commander work out with his first sergeant for 45 minutes. Within this time, several members from their small unit filtered in and out of the room; none of these individuals were spoken to, or even acknowledged by their leadership. There was no eye contact, and they demonstrated avoidance by turning their back, turning the music up, and continuing the workout.

So let’s think about this for a minute: what message did that leadership duo just send to those unit members? Are they valued? Not worthy of a morning greeting or head nod when taking breaks between sets? Eye contact counts; body language is 90% of communication and is becoming less effective for those who communicate primarily through electronic means. Simple acknowledgement counts.

As human beings, we are wired for connection! These young Airmen, NCOs, and SNCOs want to connect with these leaders beyond an awards or punishment forum. They want to see you stop at the shop unannounced. They want to be seen as a valued member of the team and feel that they matter; but the truth is that with this particular leadership team, they don’t…not until there is an award to be received or punishment to be given. Eye contact and acknowledgement will go a long ways for performance and motivation by a commander, chief, or first sergeant, if it is genuine…because if it is not, the Airmen will know.

What I watched in 45 minutes was disappointment, and a slow degradation of motivation, caring, loyalty to the unit and mission in multiple future leaders. Just as leaders have expectations of us, we have expectations of them; it costs them nothing to make eye contact and acknowledge the member but a few minutes of their workout, yet to win that lost loyalty back they will have to work twice as hard now.

How do we as NCOs and SNCOs fix this? Unfortunately, we cannot fix leadership. We can hopefully provide feedback through more means than the unit climate assessments, but by then it is too late. As a Superintendent, I try to counterbalance the lack of leadership involvement by being present physically with the door open if they need to discuss anything. Our conversations have ranged from all over the realm of personal to professional, but my NCOs know they are valued members of the team and how their contributions count to improve the mission.

People don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses. Eye contact and acknowledgement can make the difference between a less or more motivated Airman, someone on the fence about staying in or getting out, or even someone considering suicide.

If nothing else, please take some time today to truly see your Airmen, and acknowledge them…even those you don’t like or who are struggling. You never know what will drive them to motivate themselves. Small things matter, eye contact matters.

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Daily Deliberation: 3 May 2017

We need to pour our hearts into our teams. They will appreciate it forever. Every time I have done this well, they fought to stay on my team or at least ensured they remained in touch. I would rather have a network of awesome leaders I have helped to create rather than a team of sheep who will never leave me.

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